China's Winter Olympics dreams

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Media captionThe BBC's Martin Patience took to China's slopes to size up the chances

The city of Zhangjiakou is perhaps best known in China for its steel industry and appalling air pollution.

But if the Chinese government gets its way that could be about to change - the steel city could be hailed for its world-class ski resorts.

That is because Zhangjiakou - a city in northeast China with a population of four million - is part of a joint bid along with the capital, Beijing, to host the Winter Olympics in 2022.

If the bid is successful it would be the first time that the Winter Olympics have been held in China. Beijing would also become the first city in the world to host both the summer and winter games.

The other countries bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics are Norway, Ukraine, Poland and Kazakhstan.

The Chinese authorities hope their bid will inspire a new generation of Olympic competitors and spur the development of the country's nascent snow-sports facilities.

Image caption Skiing is becoming increasingly popular among China's middle class

Skiing is still very much a minority sport. But among China's growing middle classes, it is increasing in popularity.

Ski resorts are also rapidly being developed in the country's frigid northeast.

If China's bid is successful, the snow events will be held in ski resorts clustered on mountains close to Zhangjiakou.

Uphill battle

One weekday at the Ten Thousand Dragons Ski resort - a likely Olympic location - there were hundreds of skiers and snowboarders on the pistes. They were being ferried up the hill by state-of-the-art chairlifts.

There was no shortage of enthusiasm for the bid on the slopes.

One female skier said that it would be "wonderful to watch the Olympics on our doorstep."

A young boy says that if China gets the Olympics he would come to the ski resort every day.

The authorities say that they will build a 180-km high-speed rail link from Beijing to Zhangjiakou as part of the joint bid. It is estimated that the journey will take about 40 minutes.

Beijing is set to host the opening ceremony at the iconic Bird's Nest Stadium used for the spectacular summer Olympics in 2008. It would also host the ice events such as skating and ice hockey.

But the reality is that this bid faces an uphill battle.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption China's second Olympic bid faces an uphill battle

When we visited the Ten Thousand Dragons ski resort something rare happened - it started to snow. Snow at ski resort, you might think, what a bizarre thing to say.

But one of the ski resort's managers told us it was only the second time it had snowed there this winter.

The region is bone dry. Almost all the snow on the slopes is artificially made. It begs the question: can you host a Winter Olympics without any real snow?

"It's not a problem," said the resort's ski manager, who would only give her name as Ms Liang.

"It's cold enough here. We'll just use artificial snow like in Sochi."

The slopes at the resort are also not long enough to host the men's downhill event.

Ms Liang admitted that China's bid team will need to find a higher mountain and build a whole new resort.

Image caption Beijing freezes in winter - but the pollution rises

There will be concerns that pollution could also affect the bid.

In the past few days pollution levels have hit hazardous in the capital, Beijing.

While the authorities cleaned up the air for the Summer Olympics in 2008, pollution is worse in the winter, making it a bigger task this time around.

There is also the small problem that the 2018 Winter Olympics are to be held in South Korea with the summer Games two years later being hosted in Tokyo.

There could well be reluctance to grant Asia its third successive games.

If there is one country that could move mountains to make things happen then it is probably China.

But many are seeing this bid as something of a long shot.

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