Ski China: The Alpine Frontier / by Thomas O'Malley

250km from Harbin in North Eastern China is Yabuli, China's ski resort. At least 15 hours from Beijing in the snow-steeped landscape of Manchuria, it's not what you'd call accessible - most Chinese refuse to venture this far North. This is the view from the station on arrival.

The snow is good because Yabuli has very dry air, and stays as cold as a Yeti's nutsack throughout the winter. Although the temp gets as low as -30, this photo was taken at a balmy, late season -11 degrees. You can tell that because we're outside, and smiling.

As you can see Yabuli has got some smart new Austrian-made lifts to whisk you up the slopes...

And some utterly terrifying rusted relics like this one, mercifully no longer in operation. I can't really fathom the design, but it looks akin to swinging up a mountain on a bar stool 50 feet in the air. At just 900 metres elevation on the summit, Yabuli lacks the sweeping Alpine vistas of Europe. But conversely, in Europe there's no chance of spotting a Siberian white tiger. Since most skiers are day trippers (at least this late in the season), apres-ski options in the resort are limited. So we took the local bus 20 minutes down the road into Yabuli Town, to see what's happening.

First impressions were pretty bleak, with drinking and dining possibilities looking remote. But this kindly gent offered to help. Apparently, you just need to know where to look.

A quick dart up some stairs to the second floor tennemants on the main street and we spill into a packed hot pot restaurant. This winter-warming dish, characteristic of North Eastern China, is basically a bubbling cauldron of spicy broth into which you add hunks of beef, pork and mutton, potatoes, greens, noodles and mushrooms. You control the cooking on a hot plate built into your table, and everything gets dunked into garlic and sesame sauce before being shovelled down. A couple of hours, several beers and one heavily soiled t-shirt later, fondues and raclettes are but a distant, cheesy memory.

My compliments to the hardworking staff at Yang's hotpot restaurant, Main St, Yabuli, China.