Genting Resort Secret Garden (or Genting Snow Park as it is also known) is China’s premier ski resort and major venue for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, home to the freestyle skiing and snowboarding events (except Big Air/Aerials).
Australian ski and tourism management consultant Gary Grant was a key figure in the development and operation of the resort. He spent time as its COO (Chief Operating Officer), in the process setting up everything from an international ski school to ski patrol. No one is better placed to give the inside story on how this barren valley on a historic route across the Great Wall to Mongolia became China’s leading resort in less than a decade..
In 2011 I visited China as part of a team from the Whistler based SEER Resort Company. We spent time reviewing existing Chinese resorts and their operations, and providing an analysis of how and where things could be improved.
We also reviewed master plans for future projects, identifying possible issues with the planning, both in their base area, village and amenity designs as well as their slope planning. Sadly there was a lot of poor planning at the time and many substandard developments.
However, this was about to change. We received an invitation to meet with the owner of a new development whose plans were being finalized. After the meeting we were asked to attend the site and oversee some of the building being undertaken. As a result of months of regular visits, the resort, named Genting Secret Garden (or Yunding by the locals), was planned for opening in November 2012.
I was tasked with being on site during this time and its first season of operation, acting in the role of COO, which meant looking after every department of the resort (ski slopes, snowmaking, hotels and food and beverage).
As I soon learnt, this included the training of staff in many roles, the setting up of SOP’s and safety management, being the spokesperson for the resort with the media, and much, much more.
The first winter proved both challenging and extremely interesting, being able to develop new systems from scratch and to continue construction, train the management across all departments, and for me to learn how to operate effectively within a different culture. As Beijing was our major market, the 2 million plus foreigners living there proved to be a stable customer base while we worked on growing our share of the Chinese market, which was still in its early stages of development.
Season 1 rolled into summer and the development of summer activities and into another winter. During this time, it was decided that Beijing would make a bid for the 2022 winter Olympics, with Secret Garden being the showcase for this.
This involved many meetings with IOC and FIS delegates and government officials, as well as the media who had a strong interest in this bid. I became the main contact of this process and assisted in identifying sites for all snow related events, including the new Alpine events resort.
The latter proved interesting as it was in a “no-go” area for foreigners, so the Norwegian IOC advisors and I did a lot of the initial investigation via binoculars (and google earth).
A new site was required as Yunding could not host the SG or Downhill. With the delegates, we braved some amazing winter storms identifying potential areas for the Nordic events, eventually choosing a site between Yunding and another large resort under development.
Additionally, we needed to prove we could run large events, so I started with some Freestyle Skier/Boardercross, and then onto FIS Slalom and GS racing, and training camps for foreign teams.
A big advantage with China and in our area was we could make the courses with good race conditions, and they would last due to the cold and dry temperatures. Within one season we were the training camp venue for Japanese and Korean teams, as well as for numerous European and North American competitors getting ready for the World Cup series to start.
There were many challenges for sure. One was the implementing the concept of safety and training a ski patrol who had no idea of this (same for all resorts in China at the time).
Another was trying to raise the standard of instruction and use instructors who had appropriate qualifications and could ski or snowboard. The NZSIA was to become a key player in this and became a major impetus in the upgrading of Snowsports School quality. I did try with other countries, but interestingly a lack of interest in China was expressed by most.
This was the same with ski patrol training, hence the solution was for myself, with the aid of the late Lorne Borgal, the first Whistler CEO and SEER team member (and like me a former volunteer patroller and trainer) to take it on. This was challenging, interesting and a lot of fun, with the Chinese patrollers keen to learn about safety, equipment usage and patient management and evacuation. Many of these staff, the instructors, patrollers, and our groomer drivers (well trained by our Hakuba based trainer) have gone on to leading positions in the Chinese Ski Industry.
I found and employed many capable and talented people in China. These were both nationals and foreigners who had made China their home. Our mountain operations were ably led by Mr. Snow, a Chinese citizen who had spent his own time and resources to visit, work and learn overseas.
Our Park crew was led by an Italian (who still prepares world cup courses in Italy), our mountain bike trail developer was a young Canadian (who grew up in Mt Washington and has two siblings who have competed at the winter Olympics). The Hotel and F and B management staff had all worked for various Genting operations and we added an experienced operator from LAAX, Switzerland and a western food consultant from Australia. My HR Manager was Chinese, and she was one of the best I have ever worked with.
I took marketing and sales in-house with the aid of an Australian and a Hong Kong resident as getting local marketing agencies to understand snow sports was challenging.
The great thing about all these people was, not only were they excellent at what they did, they prided themselves in being able to share their knowledge and expertise. Egos were nonexistent with the first round of management and the local staff gained a lot from their involvement and mentoring. Many of the Chinese staff have now moved on to new and more senior positions in this and other resorts and have been instrumental in the growth of snowsports in China.
As a result of having a good team, we grew our visitation significantly over the time I was there. Proudly Genting Secret Garden became the number one ski resort and mountain hotel in China, with the most visitation and the main venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Once the Olympic venue had been chosen, my role in its preparations was over, as Chinese nationals moved in to organise their coming event (as it should be). The World will see the results in February.
Coincidently, around the same time I received an invitation to join a team to travel into the Tibetan region and prepare a plan to allow sustainable tourism growth, including skiing in Tibet. Stay tuned for more on that shortly.
For more on the Freestyle Aerials/Big Air venue for Beijiing 2022 inside the Olympic Stadium check Danielle Scott’s feature here: