Wed, Jan 16, 2008 - Page 13 News List

Japan's slopes lure skiers from Taiwan

Skiing in Taiwan has a 30-year history, but these days it's overseas ski trips that are gaining popularity

BY Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

Thirty years ago, Hohuanshan was one of few skiable places available to the average Taiwanese person.

PHOTO:COURTESY OF CHENG WEN-FENG, CHINESE TAIPEI SKI ASSOCIATION

On the slopes of Hohuanshan (合歡山), not far from the Central Cross-Island Highway (中部橫貫公路), stand the relics of Taiwan's attempt to build a center for skiing on the island. Not much remains now but a memory for men like Cheng Wen-feng (鄭文豐), the director of the Chinese Taipei Ski Association (中華民國滑雪滑草協會, CTSA), who 30 years ago was one of a small number of Taiwanese people who did not want living on a sub-tropical island to prevent them from enjoying skiing.

"That was still the time of martial law and most Taiwanese people were not allowed to travel abroad," he said in an interview in the association's cramped and cluttered offices.

With the advent of democracy, overseas travel became possible for Taiwanese sports enthusiasts who discovered that South Korea and Japan offered vastly more accessible ski facilities than Taiwan. As a result, in 1990 the ski operations on Hohuanshan came to an end.

Now, the association and some other tour operators offer specialized ski trips to these destinations, and the sport is gaining popularity. On the day we met, Cheng oversaw 10 pre-trip briefings alone with an estimated 2,000 people participating in ski trips organized by the association for this winter season.

Cheng recalled the early days of Taiwanese skiing when there were no lifts and skiers had to climb the hills that they skied down. "We weren't very good, but we were very fit," Cheng said with a laugh. "After all, Hohuanshan rises to over 3,000m, much higher than most international ski resorts."

As an active member of Taiwan's ski community, he oversaw skiing activities on Hohuanshan in the early 1980s and said that at its peak, they were seeing around 1,400 people skiing there every year. "The lift was built in 1973, but there were no funds to maintain it and it quickly became too dangerous to use," he said.

MORE INFORMATION

For more information:The Japanese ski season runs through March and, in some locations, skiing is possible into early April. Comprehensive listings of tour packages and how to book are available on company Web sites, though these are all in Chinese.

Chinese Taipei Ski Association (中華民國滑雪滑草協會)

Telephone: (02) 2771-2374

On the Net: www.ski.org.tw

Naruwan Travel Services Co (那魯灣旅行社)

Telephone: (02) 2561-9911

On the Net: www.naruwan.com

Sunhi Tour (尚海旅行社)

Telephone: (03) 9954-800

On the Net: www.ilan-travel.com.tw/ski/family.html


The association was originally set up as an administrative base for training athletes for international competition, but these days Cheng's main task is to promote skiing in a nation where snow is generally only seen on the television. With a background in the tourism industry, he has high hopes of creating packages that cater to those who want a taste of something new.

"We have seen numbers increase very significantly in the last few years," he said. Under Cheng's leadership, the association has become more directly involved in organizing trips. "It is not always easy for conventional tour operators to understand the needs of ski tours," he said.

Steve Yang (楊士成), the general manager of Naruwan Tour (那魯灣旅行社), the only local travel agency with a significant offering of ski-specific travel packages, has also seen numbers grow gradually, but says the agency is able to carry this section of its business only because of his own personal commitment to the sport. His agency will have between 60 and 70 tour groups going out on dedicated ski packages this year. "But with only around 6,000 people, this is a drop in the ocean of Taiwan's travel industry," he said. "Taiwan has around eight million outward bound tourists a year, so it is a tiny percentage."

One of the greatest obstacles for Taiwanese people learning to ski, according to Cheng, is their total unfamiliarity with snow and even the very concept of skiing, a situation that poses unique learning challenges. "Many of our novice skiers have probably never even stood on snow before," Cheng said. "It can take them much longer than other people to find their balance ... so if they join a local (Japanese or Korean) ski school, they may quickly find themselves falling behind. This is not a good way to start."

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