Grand plans

Updated: 2011-07-29 11:47

By Mark Graham (China Daily European Weekly)

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Grand plans
Lim Chee Wah is modeling his Beijing entertainment resort on Whistler in Canada. Mark Graham / for China Daily 

Entrepreneur hopes to open the first of many ski slopes this winter at a one billion euro resort

Grand schemes are everywhere in China, as new highways, bridges and skyscrapers help redefine the country in ultra-modern terms.

But few projects are grander, or more ambitious, than Malaysian Lim Chee Wah's new lifestyle complex, which, if things proceed according to plan, will ultimately give China its own version of Whistler, the colossal Canadian ski resort.

Lim, a skier himself, has visited Whistler and other top resorts in the United States and Europe many times. In recent years, the entrepreneur became convinced that the time was right for a similar attraction in China. The resort will be a year-round destination built for the nouveau riche in search of quality rest and relaxation. It will provide skiing and snowboarding in the winter, and tennis, horseback riding and hiking in the summer.

The Secret Garden aims to be the largest and most spectacular ski resort China has ever seen. When it is finished, in 10 years or so, the Secret Garden will boast 82 ski slopes, five golf courses, several hotels, a convention center, a mountain bike trail, lakes, tennis courts, swimming pools, horseback riding trails and a gigantic theme park.

If Lim is intimidated by the size of the undertaking, he disguises it well. The Beijing-based investor makes the rationale behind the grand scheme sound totally logical: As China's middle class become richer and more discerning, they will be desperate to flee the urban area for breaks in the mountains, skiing in winter and hiking in summer, and will be prepared to pay for the privilege.

"It is targeted at urbanites who have grown in affluence through hard work and are looking for a place to relax and enjoy the environment," says Lim, 57. "We named it the Secret Garden because not many people know where it is."

The resort itself will sprawl more than 100 square kilometers in a mountainous region that is already home to two of China's top ski resorts, Dolomite and Wanlong. All three resorts will be given a massive boost when the high-speed railway line from Beijing to Urumqi opens next year, making the nearby city of Zhangjiakou reachable in just 40 minutes from the Chinese capital, a journey that currently takes more than two hours by car.

Another major boost will be the opening of a nearby military airport to civilian flights, allowing jets to bring in vacationers from all parts of China.

"Whistler, in Canada, is the model that we have anchored our master plan on. It is a very well developed community and sustainable and sensitive to nature. That took 30 years, whereas here in China, we are trying to build it in 10 to 12 years."

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