January 29th was a particularly amusing day in the recent history of my life. Leo and his family took Andy and I for a day’s outing at Shijiazhuang Ski Park. The scene could only be described as…Three (thousand) Stooges.
Let’s start from the beginning.
When we pulled up in front of the ski park, our first order of business was, of course, the procurement of rental equipment. We headed straight for the ticket counter which had surprisingly short and orderly lines. We soon learned why. No more available skiis…or boots…or poles. If we wanted equipment, we’d have to wait “over there” – in that crowd of 1000 rambunctious locals pushing-and-shoving to get ahold of a return from a retiring patron.
Since it was still very early in the morning and thus unlikely that we’d find anyone coming off the mountain, Andy and I decided to stroll around and take in the resort’s various offerings.
Our first observation: the only equipment in the whole of Shijiazhuang Ski Park seemed to resemble what one might find in a dumpster behind a US ski resort…twenty years ago. To avoid the need to adjust any bindings, the skis themselves had all been labeled (in magic marker) with the boot sizes they’d been set to fit. All bindings were, of course, fixed on the lowest possible setting – so the ski would pop right off at the first hint of pressure. The maximum boot size was just barely large enough to fit me, and they had nothing large enough for Andy.
Next we walked out onto the foot of the slopes.
Ahead of us lie three grades if decline – all of which were comfortably wide and utterly free from obstruction. They were labeled Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. To draw a comparison to the types of slopes you might find here in the states, their “Advanced” is similar to our “Beginner”, their “Intermediate” to our “Bunny Hill”, and their “Beginner” would basically be cross-country skiing.
There were no chairlifts. Instead, running alongside the “Intermediate” and “Advanced” slopes were little cables that you’d grab onto and wait to be dragged up the hill. These cables moved so slowly that about half the customers just chose to walk uphill on foot. Their method of transporting the equipment: flip the poles upside down, hook them onto the skiis, and drag everything in the snow behind them.
They didn’t understand why we thought this was funny.
But that still wasn’t the best part. Not even close.
Watching those skiers shoot down the hill – straight down the hill – was what truly reminded Andy and I of the Three Stooges. As best as I could tell, here was their methodology in every single case, without exception:
Step 1) Aim your feet downwards
Step 2) Close your eyes and hope for the best
The sheer volume of falls was simply stunning. Nobody turned. No body even wedged. They just plowed straight down the hill without any regard for anything – and if someone was in the way, they’d get it. Avoidance? Hah! The “resort” actually had a small army of staff – dressed in army pants no less – for the sole purpose of running around the hill, collecting shed poles and skis, and helping people back onto their feet. And it’s a good thing – because nobody, and I mean nobody, would stand back up under their own power. ArmyPantsGuys would simply hurry over, pick them up by their armpits, point them downwards, and let ’em go.
When Andy and I first saw the grade of the hills, we thought we must be missing something – there must be some other area where the real slopes lie, or else there’s no way this place would’ve drawn so many customers. But it didn’t take long to understand the reason why there weren’t any trees, moguls, turns, or even lifts: things were chaotic enough without them. People were tumbling, crashing into each other, tripping over themselves, and knocking each other over. Skiis and poles were flying in every direction. And in the midst of it all, ArmyPantsGuys scurried back and forth always trying to remain one step ahead of the carnage.
Skiing in Shijiazhuang could only be described as a display of ultimate hilarity.
To give you an idea, HERE is a video I clipped together from some footage Andy and I took during about 10 minutes of random shooting on the intermediate hill. Again, I emphasize: this all took place within about 10 minutes. We were just standing there, in one spot, chatting and looking around us. On INTERMEDIATE.
Needless to say, we chose not to put on skis of our own that particular day 😛