Watching the film “China: A Skier’s Journey” you appreciate an untypical look at the only country competing head to head economically with the United States. It spends its 16 minutes establishing context for a country with about 500 ski resorts where 25 years ago there were none.
Seen as a wellspring of middle class consumer culture, it’s sobering to think that one of every eight people on the planet will soon be living in a China city. Do Chinese urbanites see nouveau status in skiing? Perhaps it’s an outlet for physical conditioning and prowess. Maybe, it’s an excuse to breathe far from notoriously unhealthy city air.
The film spends its best time on a more interesting cultural flavor. Ancient cave drawings in northwestern China suggest skiing goes back thousands of years. Modernization threatens the barely continuing tradition of long, wide, homemade skis with horse hair bottoms. OK, rural herding and hunting no longer calls for skiing, whatever age the technology, but it’s neat to see how these skis are made and how a kid learns skiing the old way in his own back yard.
One other layer of this international travelogue shows two American ski-geeks checking out China’s first business that drives you to the wilderness in a snowcat machine. With natural snow accumulations largely absent from manmade-snow resorts, the Changbai Volcano offers a uniquely scary experience. If you have a problem, you may require a military helicopter that’s not too keen picking you up so close to the North Korean border.