Snow in Beijing

Updated: 2012-02-05 07:39

By Irene Deng (China Daily)

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Snow in Beijing 

Snowfall has been light in Beijing this winter, but that has not stopped its citizens from having fun on ice and snow. Irene Deng highlights the capital's winter sports options.

Snow has been rare in Beijing this year so far, but skating on ice, and frolicking in the snow are still favorite pastimes for those who enjoy the great outdoors despite the zero temperatures. In fact, it is thanks to the sub-zero temperatures that Beijing's many lakes, ponds and canals have frozen over, forming instant ice rinks for children of all ages. And for many native Beijingers over 50, the Shichahai rink is still the best spot for a few turns on the ice. The lake at Houhai, where the banks are ringed with bars and pubs, has been a winter park for skaters for many generations. Many Beijingers eagerly wait for it to freeze over so they can brush off the dust on their skates and go zooming around the lake again.

Snow in Beijing 

Skating and ice hockey are regular winter favorites at the Shichahai Rink. [Cui Meng / China Daily] 

These days, there are more options. Besides skating, fun-lovers can go sledding or riding ice-cycles set on runners.

On this 60,000-square-meter ice rink, the fairy tale blue-and-white world blends ice with sky in the distance, and against this backdrop, Beijing plays.

Children with grandparents, families with pets, young couples courting, friends and college students in groups dot the landscape and bring it alive with their laughter and excitement.

"We have more people coming this year because the holidays fell within the same period when the temperature was low enough to freeze the river - Christmas, New Year and Spring Festival," says Li Hao, the man in charge of the ticket booth.

Li says the ice is as thick as 30 cm this year. Every night after the rink closes, they will pour water on the surface to make sure the ice is smooth for the next day.

Of all the activities on ice, sledding is the easiest and most popular, especially among children accompanied by parents or grandparents. Sleds here are different from the dogsleds so often seen on television. These sleds are chair-like vehicles set on mental runners.

Snow in Beijing 

Visitors play with fluffy snow foxes at the Yuyuantan Park's snow festival.[Provided to China Daily]

"There are about 200 sleds and we usually rent all out by the afternoon," says Li.

Zhao Yuemei, a 70-year-old Beijinger, sits on a sled, watching her little granddaughter playing on the slides. Munching on her stick of bingtang hulu - the candied haw so beloved of Beijing - the old woman says people of her age never knew the pleasure of sledding before 1949.

There had been a similar contraption called bingchuang (a sort of platform on metal or wooden runners rather like a giant skateboard), which worked to transport people from one side of the river to the other, like a primitive bus on ice.

"My home was near Shichahai in the 1940s. We usually took a bingchuang to get to the other side of the lake. It was fast and convenient in winter," says grandmother Zhao.

Shichahai has enjoyed fame and popularity since the 1940s, and people love it for its picturesque landscape surrounded by traditional courtyard houses that used to be the aristocratic homes of the emperor's relatives.

In the 1950s, skating was so popular in Beijing that even Chairman Mao Zedong skated there with his daughter. When Chinese skating athletes took the world championships in the 1960s, the craze to skate became white-hot. This was when Shichahai witnessed the largest number of people coming to skate.

"You couldn't even move because there were so many people on the rink at that time," recalls 65-year-old Yang, another regular skater here.

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