today is May 23, 2022

China isn’t a winter sports mecca. And Beijing, an urban center home to 90 million-plus people, is the antithesis of a mountain town. But athletes and coaches also dealt with an untraditional Winter Games setting in Pyeongchang—is anyone else excited for Cortina in 2026? And China has an edge since the country has already hosted an Olympics, with several venues from the 2008 Summer Games being reused. The iconic Birds Nest (AKA the National Stadium), for example, will once again be the site for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Games.

Venues have been divided into three zones: Beijing, home to a spectacular new Big Air venue (more on that later), the mountainous suburb of Yanqing and Zhangjiakou, a ski area just over 100 miles northwest of the city. The latter is home to Genting Resort Secret Garden, a Poconos-esque ski hill, where slopestyle and halfpipe will take place.

Topping out at around 6,900 feet, with about a 1,300-foot vertical drop, it’s certainly far from a bucket list destination. It’s small, windy, very cold and the snow is mostly all man-made. On the positive side, a former Mammoth Mountain executive who now lives in China was tasked with transforming the site into an Olympic-worthy venue. Almost everything is brand-spankin’ new, from the heated chairlifts to restaurants like Old Beijing and Green Dragon that serve belly-warming hot pots. Snowpark geniuses Schneestern were also hired to build the slopestyle course (sneak peek on pg. 70) and a new high-speed train cuts travel time from Beijing to Zhangjiakou down to 50 minutes from five hours.

The unique setting is just one reason these Games will feel different. The two Olympic Villages—one in Beijing and one in Zhangjiakou—will be party-free due to Covid restrictions and venues will have few, if any, crowds. There’s also China’s troubling human rights record and the ongoing call from activists for a global boycott of the Games. Global dramas aside, the Winter Olympics has always been a stage for the world’s athletes to shine. It’s a time to set aside political and cultural differences and come together around a shared love of sport. China has hosted the Games before and knows how to put on a dazzling show.