China’s Winter Sports Market Skis Towards the 520 Million Mark

Published on: February 21, 2024

Unlocking Winter Sports Opportunities in China for Global Brands

China’s winter sports landscape has undergone a dramatic transformation and maturation in recent years.

Thanks to the 2022 Beijing Olympics and the rapid expansion of the middle class, China has become a one of the world’s largest markets for winter sports.

As we look towards the 2024-2025 snow season, the forecast is nothing short of staggering: an expected 520 million participants in ice and snow leisure tourism, generating an anticipated revenue of US$101.1 billion.

China is a market where over 346 million people have already participated in winter sports. However, what truly sets China apart is not just the sheer volume of participants but its forward-thinking approach to winter sports. China is redefining the winter sports season with indoor resorts, which extend the season. Moreover, consumers are eager to snap up the latest in winter sports equipment and related apparel.

That means China is now a year-round market for sports gear, apparel, and fitness equipment. For brands, this means the opportunity to engage with an enthusiastic and active community eager and ready to hit the slopes — be they natural or synthetic — at any time of the year.


Why China? Why Now?

Timing and strategy are everything, and for global sports, outdoors, and fitness brands eyeing China, the moment couldn’t be more ripe. The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics didn’t just put China on the map for winter sports, it ignited a firestorm of interest across the nation. However, the seeds for this transformation were sown well before the Olympics. Back in 2016, China embarked on an ambitious journey to morph into a winter sports nation.

The goal? To boost the winter sports participation base from 6 million to 300 million. Part of this grand strategy involved rolling out hundreds of new ski resorts, making winter sports accessible far beyond the chilly reaches of China’s northeast.

Fast forward to today, China is one of the world leaders in ski resorts, which are equipped with state-of-the-art artificial snow. This blend of geographical and technological innovation has transitioned winter sports from a niche pastime to a widespread activity, welcoming an array of new participants into the fold.

Unlocking Winter Sports Opportunities in China for Global Brands - Sunac Snow World
Sunac Snow Park in Guangzhou, China, is the world's 2nd largest indoor ski resort.

A pivotal 2023 industry report sheds light on a significant trend: a surge in vacations centred around ice and snow sports. This isn’t just about one-off trips anymore — it’s about immersive winter getaways. Such a shift is not only propelling the demand for winter sports gear but also buoying up adjacent sectors like hospitality and transportation.

For international sports and fitness brands, the message is clear: China’s evolving winter sports scene is brimming with potential. With the government’s backing, an expanding pool of enthusiasts, and a surge in expenditure on winter activities, the soil is rich for brands ready to introduce innovative products and foster strong community ties.

The Shift to a Snowy Mainstream

China’s winter sports scene is rapidly evolving, breaking free from its northeastern roots. Ski resorts are now a common sight not just around Beijing but across the country, offering enthusiasts artificial snow slopes for year-round fun. Despite this expansion, traditional northeastern regions like Harbin remain beloved for their natural snow and iconic skiing destinations.

Down south in Guangzhou, where palm trees sway and winter temperatures hover above 20°C, locals are hitting the slopes at the Sunac Snow Park (廣州融創雪世界), the world’s 2nd largest indoor ski area. Imagine a space as vast as 8 soccer fields, offering 5 slopes that cater to all skill levels, complete with a chairlift. Nestled next to a shopping mall, this snow park has welcomed over 2 million visitors since its doors opened 3 years ago, proving that the thrill of skiing isn’t confined by geography. Residents here train in anticipation of venturing to the real snowy terrains of northern China.

Unlocking Winter Sports Opportunities in China for Global Brands - dry ski slope
Indoor ski centre with dry slope

Despite facing challenges like unpredictable snow conditions and remote locations of many ski resorts, China is innovating its way through the winter sports industry. The country is moving away from energy-intensive, artificial snow-filled ski halls to embrace sustainable alternatives like plastic mat-covered slopes, suitable for both indoor and outdoor settings. This strategic move aimed to ignite a passion for snow and ice across the country, making winter sports accessible to millions beyond the traditional northeastern hotspots.

Embracing the Winter Sports Craze in China

When it comes to winter sports in China, skiing reigns supreme. Valued at a whopping US$8.1 billion in 2023, the market is on an uphill trajectory. From just 130 ski resorts in 2002 to over 800 today, the landscape has evolved dramatically.

Millennials and Gen Z are leading the pack, flocking to the slopes for adventure and new experiences. The buzz isn’t just on the mountains; it’s also lighting up the digital world. Social platforms, particularly Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book), are abuzz with ski-related content, from queries about the best gear to tips for first-timers. This demographic’s zeal for winter sports underscores a broader trend: Young Chinese consumers are not just participating; they’re shaping the future of these chilly pursuits.

Unlocking Winter Sports Opportunities in China for Global Brands - xiaohongshu
Skiing and snowboarding content on Xiaohongshu

Whether drawn by the adrenaline rush of skiing or the cool factor of snowboarding, China’s younger generations are diving headfirst into winter activities. Their eagerness to explore and embrace the snow and ice is not only redefining leisure but also driving a booming market that shows no signs of cooling down.

For international sports, outdoors, and fitness brands looking to conquer the Chinese market, the strategy must be as fluid and adaptable as the terrain they’re venturing into. But cracking China’s winter sports scene is about more than just peddling skiing equipment. It’s about striking a chord with the unique tastes and habits of Chinese consumers.

In China, skiing transcends the realm of sport to become a multifaceted form of entertainment. It’s not uncommon for enthusiasts to be as captivated by the social and leisure elements— like snapping that flawless slope-side selfie or savouring local bites in the chilly outdoors — as they are by the thrills of skiing itself.

Arcteryx case study 2

This shift in consumer habits opens up a world of possibilities for brands to truly resonate with their audience. It’s time to think outside the box: forge meaningful partnerships, kickstart educational initiatives, and nurture communities that resonate with the vibrancy of this market.

Emphasising sustainability and catering to indoor skiing aficionados can also distinguish a brand, echoing the eco-friendly ethos of today’s consumers. In doing so, brands not only gain a foothold in a burgeoning market but also play a pivotal role in steering winter sports toward a more inclusive and sustainable horizon.

Seizing the Moment

China’s winter sports market is ripe with opportunities for global brands. Thanks to a strong push from the government, an ever-expanding middle class, and a market that’s hungry for innovation and sustainability, the timing couldn’t be better. As China forges ahead in expanding the winter sports domain, it lays out a welcome mat for brands aiming to solidify their presence and contribute to the sector’s vibrant dynamism.

Creative Digital Marketing in China - Rudsak Tmall Singles' Day Promo
Rudsak advertisement on Tmall for Singles' Day

To truly make a mark in China’s winter sports market requires more than a cursory understanding — it demands an immersion into the local consumer landscape. Tailoring marketing strategies that resonate with Chinese cultural nuances and leveraging popular social media platforms can dramatically boost a brand’s visibility and charm.

At WPIC, we’re on the frontline, navigating the complexities of Asia’s dynamic markets. Our expertise in market entry, e-commerce solutions, and digital marketing strategies is tailored to help global sports, outdoors, and fitness brands not just enter but thrive in China’s winter sports scene. Partner with WPIC to craft a strategy that hits home with Chinese consumers.

Ready to carve your path in China’s winter sports market? Contact WPIC today to unlock the full potential of your brand in this rapidly growing sector.

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