|Source: Beijing Organizing Committee|
The mountains outside of Beijing are fairly steep with many narrow canyons and ravines. In general, the terrain is quite rugged. Large trees are minimal, with the mountains covered primarily by scrub trees and brush. A real highlight, which these pictures taken from a speeding van cannot do justice, are the views of the Great Wall. Sadly, time did not permit a visit, but I would very much like to hike along it at some point in the future.
No facilities existed at Yanqing prior to the Olympic bid and, as can be seen in the Google Earth imagery below, the area was pretty much undeveloped prior to the beginning of the Olympic construction. Getting to Yanqing involved travel up a narrow, sinewy highway. Evidence of the infrastructure construction was evident along the way, however. I suspect the towers below will eventually hold the high-speed rail. I love the Olympics, but have always found these massive infrastructure projects difficult to swallow.
The sign below marked the entrance to the road up to Haituo Mountain. Despite it being a Chinese holiday the day we visited, work was happening everywhere above this point. Closed presently to the public, we were permitted to go on to what will become the base of the ski resort.
We were not, however, allowed to take pictures, so I'll give a description of plans using Google Earth. This is drawn based on memory, so expect inaccuracies. The Men's downhill will start on the summit. Starting houses for the Women's downhill and SuperG races will be a bit further down a ridge that extends roughly westsouthwestward off the summit. This ridge is frequently oriented across the prevailing northwesterly flow. The finish area is in a ravine and at about 1360 meters. Technical races will occur mid mountain in the area indicated by the oval. I wasn't sure if these would finish part way up the mountain or at the same location as the downhill, but I suspect the former. I saw some additional routes depicted on maps, but I wasn't sure if these were planned ski runs, training areas, or perhaps alternative routes for technical races. As I understood it, the finish area will be accessed by a gondola that runs up the valley from the terminus of the high-speed rail, which will be farther down the mountain east of the sliding facilities.
As far as weather and climate, specific information is lacking. Observations have only recently been collected in the area. There are typically three major concerns for Olympic Alpine venues: wind, visibility, and precipitation. Extreme cold, warmth, or rapid temperature change can also be a concern. As far as wind is concerned, the lack of vegetation along the ridge and preliminary observations from upper elevations suggest the summit and southwest ridge frequently see strong winds. As far as clouds and precipitation are concerned, this is a remarkably dry area. Given the short records available, however, nobody has a precise number for mean seasonal snowfall, but it is probably less than 25 inches, and 25 inches might be generous. This reflects a lack of precipitation rather than warm storms that produce rain. Visibility observations have yet to be collected. I suspect cloud obscuration along the downhill route is less frequent than one might find along courses in the Alps or at Whistler during the 2008 Olympics, but we were shown photos of periods in which cloud-limited visibility would be an issue.
A few other items of note. The first is that the courses are on southerly to southwesterly aspects. The second is that the area does see dust storms, although those are typically in the spring. Nevertheless, they remain a low-probability possibility, perhaps with the highest potential during the Paralympics, which are held in March. Finally, it is unknown at this point if the area is affected during the cool season by pollution from Beijing. Observations are being collected and more will be known in the near future.
The resort is higher and drier than the Alpine venues at PyeongChang. In fact, the speed events end at about the same elevation as the start houses in PyeongChang. My thinking was if I had to ski here, I would probably bring whippet poles and body armor and hope for the best. Of course, rock hard man-made snow is what the racers want, and limited natural snow eases course prep. Course designer Bernhard Russi, who also designed the course at Snowbasin, shares his perspectives in this USA Today article.
We were able to take photos from near the base of the future sliding center, which illustrates the regional terrain. The sliding center is the area covered by the green tarps presumably to limit erosion by wind and rain during the construction. The ravine at center is the route that we followed to Haituo Mountain and will be the approximate path of the gondola accessing the finish area. Haituo Mountain is in the haze/smog on the horizon.
The area is around Haituo is quite pretty and would make for nice hiking. I would have enjoyed a hike to the summit for sure. It could be that the resort will fare better in the summer than the winter for visitation and revenue. Certainly high-speed rail from Beijing, which will take something like 45 minutes each way, will offer an incredible escape.
The advantage of that train was readily apparent on our return to Beijing on the last day of a long weekend. Traffic was heavy and the route took a few hours. One thing that surprised me was a lack of microcars in Beijing. It was full of Audis, Mercedes, Buicks, and medium-sized crossovers. Other than bikes and mopeds, which are plentiful, you could have been in a US city.
Finally, although I am not a lager fan, I did like the label on this beer that we discovered during a break on the way home.
Turns out, according to Business Insider, Snow beer is the best selling beer in the world. The stuff you learn during travel.
It's tough to say what we'll cover next, but I have an inside scoop on the Snowboarding Big Air, which will be unlike anything ever done before, some photos from the remarkable campus of the Beijing Olympic Committee, and of course discussion of what is happening in weather research and forecasting for the Olympics and Beijing in general.