Xiling Snow Mountain in China’s Sichuan Province enthrals with its snow-dusted slopes and panoramic vistas.
Squeals of delight jolted me awake from my afternoon snooze. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I looked around to see what it was that inspired such elation in my fellow travellers. It was S-N-O-W-I-N-G!
It didn’t take long before I too surrendered to the spell of the falling snow, watching with child-like wonder – eyes as large as saucers and mouth agape – as snowflake after snowflake settled on the windscreen of the van.
We had arrived at the base of Xiling Snow Mountain, a picture postcard ski resort in what is dubbed the Eastern Alps, a mountainous region of alpine forests and snow-capped peaks in China’s Sichuan province. Only 95kms from the city of Chengdu, the resort attracts visitors by the thousands each day particularly during the colder months from November to late March.
SNOW OF A THOUSAND YEARS
Jumping out of the van, I made my way to the cable car station alongside tourists and day-trippers lugging sleds behind them through the snow. Unfettered by the uphill trek to the station, many of them whipped out smartphones to capture images of the falling snow while several children (and some adults) excitedly stuck their tongues out to taste icy snowflakes!
The short cable car ride took me to Yuan Yang Chi Tourist Centre where, while waiting for a bus to my hotel, I watched as men, women and children made a dash for the snow, shrieking with wild abandon as they threw snowballs at one other. All this excitement – and we weren’t even at the main square yet!
Centuries before it was transformed into a ski resort capable of hosting winter sporting events, Xiling with its rugged beauty had already inspired many a pretty prose. Standing in front of my hotel, I understood what Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu described – in his poem that paid homage to the snowy mountain – as the ‘snow of a thousand years’. Blanketed with layer upon layer of white powder, the surreal landscape seemed miles away from the city I had left just a couple of hours before.
By the time I arrived at the Yingxue Hotel, one of several mid to high-end lodgings available at the mountain resort, a fog had already descended, shrouding the slopes in a cloak of white mist. Fortunately, my thoroughly modern accommodation offered breathtaking views of the slopes, as well as heated floors!
Cocooned in my room, a cup of hot tea in hand, I glanced outside to find people still having fun out in the snow, despite the close to zero temperatures and fading light. Here, at 2,200 metres above sea level, temperatures in winter hover around the freezing mark. But, with an average snow depth of 0.6 metres in winter, you can imagine the fun that is to be had, especially, if like many of the resort’s visitors, you are experiencing snow for the very first time!
SNOWY MOUNTAIN HIGH
Up at the crack of dawn the next morning, I was ready to take on the slopes. But I wasn’t the only early riser. Tourists were already milling about the main square, hoping to make the most of the shorter daylight hours. My guide suggested heading straight up the mountain to Riyueping, a viewing area 3,250 metres above sea level. Getting there involved a 45-minute cable car ride, which offered spectacular views of the alpine forests frosted in white.
At Riyueping or Sun and Moon Ground, I was told it was possible to view the moon and the sun at the same time on clear mornings – hence the name Sun and Moon Ground. Though I was not fortunate to witness this naturally-occurring phenomenon, the sight of the misty valley below me was spectacular.
If the temperature at the bottom was chilly; it was below zero and bone-numbingly cold at this altitude. From this scenic spot, I made my way to the sole hotel on the mountain and, thankfully, was offered a steaming mug of tea. This was just what I needed to warm up before dashing out into the snow again for the requisite photos. The cold, however, did not deter a mob of ruddy-cheeked children who were clearly enjoying themselves playing catch in the snow.
All that hiking high on the mountains only whetted my appetite for more action. I headed back down to the main activity area to try the very things that attract winter sports enthusiasts to Xiling. Activities were divided into three designated areas and included fun pursuits like riding snowmobiles and hurtling down slopes in a rubber tube nicknamed the flying saucer.
Like a child in a candy store, I was spoilt for choice, not knowing which ride to try first. I quickly made up my mind when I came across the snow biking station. This activity involved riding a bike down a slope, and required no pedalling at all! Harmless enough – except I did need to remember to brake!
Eyeing the snaking queues at the snow boating and flying saucer rides, I skipped ahead to the flying fox station that seemed like a whole lot of fun too. Strapped into the safety harness, I zipped across a 300metre-long wire over treetops frosted with snow. Now, that certainly offered a blood-pumping rush of adrenalin!
TAKING TO THE SLOPES
Covering an area of seven square kilometres, Xiling Snow Mountain is the largest ski field in southern China. Having never skied before, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to tackle the slopes. With four ski trails – one for professionals and three for novice skiers, there was plenty of room for everyone.
The ski centre was clearly accustomed to handling a large volume of visitors each day and was run with professional efficiency. Before hitting the trails, I geared up and was handed ski boots and keys to a locker to store my belongings. I was then given my skis and a quick briefing by the resident pros at the centre. One thing’s for sure, I had a renewed respect for skiers once I walked out onto the snow all suited up in boots and ski gear. Skiing was definitely not as easy as it looked on television. Even walking with my skis and not toppling over took some practice!
I was led to the easiest of the novice slopes and given the go-ahead to test out my newly acquired skills under the watchful eyes of a pro. I must admit it was tough and took more than a couple of tries before I managed to successfully navigate a short run all by myself without falling over my skis! The exhilaration of that first run was worth all the effort. For those who want a little more action, the advanced trail offers higher slopes with challenging bends, while the other novice trails differ in length. And for the really brave, night skiing is available!
They say time flies when you’re having fun. Before I knew it, it was time to leave the resort and head back to the city. This was also the only morning during my stay that the sun decided to make its appearance, casting its golden glow on the snowy landscape. As I boarded the cable car, I turned around to take one last look and what a sight it was – with glistening peaks and powder-covered slopes, Xiling Snow Mountain was truly an amazing winter wonderland.
365 DAYS OF FUN
Can’t visit during the winter season? Fret not. From May to October, as the snow melts on the slopes, Xiling Snow Mountain transforms into a warm weather playground. Boasting the largest high-mountain grass-skating field in China with 50,000 square metres of mountain turf, the resort offers plenty of family-friendly activities including grass-skating, a fun experience that is just like skiing minus the cold weather and snow. Visitors can also try grass-boarding and orbing down the slopes in summertime. Xiling’s snow-capped peaks, however, are a year-round attraction, visible throughout the changing seasons. The highest of these peaks is Daxuetang at a height of 5,364 metres above sea level.
GOD’S LIGHT IN THE FOREST
At the Riyueping viewing point, visitors can sometimes witness an optical Phenomenon dubbed ‘God’s Light in the Forest’ when a halo of rainbow-coloured rings appears to rise over the forests. The phenomenon was given the name ‘God’s Light’ because it resembles Buddha’s halo.
travel 3Sixty° team’s visit to Xiling Snow Mountain was made possible courtesy of Chengdu Wonderful Travel Service, Chengdu Culture & Tourism Group and Chengdu Xiling Snow Mountain Tourism Development Co., Ltd.
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