Thursday, Apr. 23, 2009

White Magic

Best Resort Makeover
Heilongjiang, China

Most of those visiting the Yabuli ski resort in China's far northwest in past years have, to put it mildly, not been impressed. "The Windmill Resort Hotel is one of the worst hotels that I have ever stayed in," a Malaysian named Law wrote in an online ski forum after he visited Yabuli in January 2008. "Rooms are old, dirty and smelled. No proper hot water supply — just imagine with temperature of -30C." Nor did many people find the runs very impressive, often complaining about the lack of snow and poor maintenance.

But China's biggest ski resort, located 120 miles (200 km) southeast of the city of Harbin, is undergoing a metamorphosis worthy of Cinderella and now boasts carefully manicured pistes, speedy heated lifts and a hotel where there is definitely a 24-hour supply of hot water, among many other amenities. This transformation comes courtesy of Melco China Resorts, a Canadian company that says it will pour a total of $100 million into the resort in an effort to make the new facilities — known as Sun Mountain Yabuli — truly world class.

So far, only one of an eventual three five-star hotels is operating, and the promised 20-room, suite-only boutique establishment is still under construction. There are plans under way to link the resort's 16 runs, some of the best in China, with neighboring slopes run by the local government to create China's biggest network of trails. But as my 13-year-old son Nicholas points out, the most awaited enhancements are hotel employees patrolling the slopes with backpacks full of hot chocolate, which will apparently happen next year. Now that would be a transformation.