Snow sports are booming in China, and Icon X snowboarding guru Anne Meike Van Kinderen gives us the snowboarding where, when and...hao!!! Born and raised in Holland, one of the world's flattest countries, 31-year-old Anne Meike Van Kinderen dishes up on why she loves being a snowboard coordinator for Icon X, where to find the best slopes in the Middle Kingdom and the future of winter sports in China. What's your job? After working in Shanghai for over a year, I got the opportunity to combine snowboarding and work with Icon X which is a retail outlet that sells sports gear. We are also dedicated to the growth of action sports in China which is why we coordinate snowboard, skateboard, and surf lessons, trips and events. Is snowboarding becoming popular among Chinese people and do you think this will be a growing market in the future? Snowboarding has matured in Western markets but in China it's currently a growing sport; in fact it's booming. As the middle class in China grows the disposable income for leisure activities such as snowboarding are becoming a more popular way to spend their time. I guess it's about 95% local people on the slopes out there and 5% Westerners. What ski resorts do you arrange trips to? Round trips depart weekly from Shanghai and Beijing to one of the following resorts. Most of them are close to Beijing: Yabuli in Northeast China. You may have heard of it, since it is close to Harbin, famous for its annual Ice and Snow Festival. Until February we go to resorts near Beijing since the snow is good, weather is nice and why look any further if you can find all you need right on your door step?! In March temperatures are rising. That means conditions in Beijing are a bit less appealing with the warmer weather, but on the flip side it makes the resorts further northeast more attractive and bearable. So, that's when we take our serious adventure trips to the powdered snow heavens of Changbaishan and Yabuli. As a retailer of snowboard gear is there much competition for business in China? Among the gray market there is a lot of competition. But among authentic gear, there are only about two other retailers in Beijing who are doing a great job keeping up quality and authenticity. But Chinese people know that gray market products aren't reliable so that is why an authentic product wins in the end—it's dependable and it won't leave you stranded on the slopes or worse, badly injured.
How long have you been snowboarding? Why China? I started skiing when I was just a toddler and have been a enthusiastic skier ever since. I always wanted to try snowboarding. After my graduation I worked in Switzerland for two months where I finally got a chance to give snowboarding a serious shot. And I was immediately hooked! Are Icon X staff bilingual? Yes. The majority of the guests on our trips are from other countries and we want to make sure everyone is comfortable and having a good time. It's a great opportunity for to make new friends from different cultures. Our coordinators and snowboarding coaches can speak Chinese, English, French, Dutch, German, Spanish and Vietnamese. Do you arrange trips for companies, like team building activities? How do most people hear about you guys? Yes we do. Currently, we have opportunities for companies to attend team building trips. People hear about us through word of mouth. We want to create a good experience for everyone so naturally they want to share it with their friends. What are the challenges of working in this industry in China? Are their a lot of legal issues, insurance issues and red tape? Like many industries in China there are some difficulties with red tape. It's part of working within the framework you are given. The biggest difficulty we face in the snowboarding industry is counterfeit and factory leak product. We don't want participants riding on unreliable equipment because that creates potential for injuries on the slopes. Counterfeit and factory-leak products have not passed quality inspection, you have to be careful. Is the winter sport industry in China mainly headed by foreigners? Right now it's a combination of both foreign and Chinese management. Mellow Parks, Dolomiti, and Yabuli are run by foreigners who have experience in this area. Icon X is the only foreign-run retailer. Snowboarding was first developed in Western markets so it's still where the standards are set and where eyes are focused. So you don't do ski gear at all, just snowboarding? Is there a place where I can rent ski gear? Icon X is dedicated to core board sports—snowboarding, surfing and skateboarding. So, no ski rentals, but we do welcome skiers on our trips. We have some Burton snowboard gear for rent. And if you are a skier and want to try snowboarding, we offer snowboarding lessons for beginners. What are the challenges of organizing trips in China? Got any interesting stories for me? Organizing trips in China can be a bit of a challenge, but it's fun. I get to do something I am passionate about so the little nuances don't bother me so much. That's what I love about our trips is that I get the opportunity to meet new people from different nationalities. Hmmm, interesting stories? On one of our trips, we passed a few cows and one of the bulls mistook our van for another bull threatening his harem. The bull started to charge our van and we had to swerve at the last minute. You never know what to expect on these trips which makes them exciting and memorable.
What about dangers? What happens if someone is injured on one of your trips?
We've been lucky and have not had any major injuries. Just the usual scratches, bruised bums and sprained wrists that come with snowboarding, but that's why we offer Burton protective gear like butt pads, wrist guards, and helmets. For further information about booking trips with Icon X, contact Anne. Or if you want to plan a DIY trip, check below on where to book hotels and flights. How to get there: Flights Go to Ctrip for flights to Harbin or Beijing or call the 24 call center: 400-619-999 (in China). Flights from Shanghai to Beijing cost around 1200 RMB return. Flights from Shanghai to Harbin cost around 1800 RMB return. Flights from Beijing to Harbin cost around 1200 RMB return. Train The sleeper train between Shanghai and Beijing is also ideal for weekend trips. Soft and hard sleeper beds cost between 300-600 RMB each way. The trip takes 9-12 hours. Where to stay: Click on the following destinations for hotels, guesthouses and lodges close to the hills: Harbin, Beijing, Nanshan, Shanghai, Wanlong and Changbaishan.