Beijing is the only city on the planet to host a Summer and Winter Olympic Games.
I was there in 2008, as someone who lived in Beijing at the time, as someone who watched the Games as a spectator, and as someone who anchored the morning show on the Olympic broadcaster for those 17 magical days.
Sadly, the pandemic prevents many people including myself from re-living that experience in 2022.
But these Winter Games is shining a light on little-known areas close to the capital that are hosting different events for different sports. Chongli is one of them.
Chongli is 240km outside of Beijing in a province called Hebei where my grandfather is from.
I’d not heard of it until a couple of days ago. But soon, millions of people will hear its name. That’s because Chongli will host the ski events at the 2022 Olympics, a huge honour for a relatively small county, known more for its mountains than as the seat of international sport.
Ironically, Chongli’s new story began in 2008, the year of the Summer Games, when a ski resort was completed.
The soil quality in Chongli is poor, making it hard for farmers to grow their crops and for local industry to prosper and develop. For many years, Chongli was a national-level poverty-stricken area.
But since the first ski resort opened, Chongli has become a destination for athletes, tourists, and major investment, and that has had a knock-on impact for infrastructure, housing and schools.
It’s also a great place to live for the 120,000 people who call Chongli their home.
Air quality in Chongli is the best in Hebei province, thanks to being located in a transition zone that falls between the North China Plain, an area bookended by mountains and seas, and the Inner Mongolia Plateau.
With 49,000 hectares of virgin sub-forest, it’s also a major contributor to forest cover essential for water cycles, soil health and clean air.
So, Chongli is blessed with natural resources and recent focus on transforming it into a venue for a major winter Olympic discipline.
Thick, early and long-lasting snow gives Chongli a typical ski season of five months each year.
About 5,000 people hit its slopes on an average day while the snow park below hosts up to 10,000 people.
It has a range of hotels, restaurants and other facilities that bring jobs to local communities where up to 90% of jobs directly go to families in Chongli and nearby areas.
And we’re not only talking about low-skilled jobs. For example, young people are being trained as ski instructors, providing them a skill set that is internationally transferable.
At first, the quality of these instructors could vary widely.
But now, as China grows into a serious winter sports player, winning nine medals at the last Games in PyeongChang, it will experience a trickle-down effect of world-class talent to educate the next generation of amateur and professional athletes.
Just to show that sports is a universal language, these instructors will one day be employed at resorts in Japan, North America and Europe, as much for their skills as for their ability to work with Chinese-speaking tourists.
The young people of Chongli really have a future to look forward to, be it abroad or at home as it evolves into a major destination in itself.
In 2019, a decade after its first ski resort, Chongli officially left its poverty status behind.
That year also, one in every five people in Chongli was employed in an ice or snow-related position with over 30,000 people directly or indirectly benefiting from the transformation still underway.
Who knows, perhaps one day, Chongli will join the ranks of Whistler, Courchevel, Aspen, Zermatt or Niseiko… a place that brings people together in joy, wellbeing and good health.