Sick Pow on the Mao

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China's Tianshan Mountains

China might make the world's best lead-painted toys and toxic puppy kibble, but when it comes to skiing, they're way behind the curve. In a country of 1.3 billion, most of its ski areas are shoddier than its human rights record.

All that is about to change – well, at least the skiing part. Developer PingTian Resorts is building the country's first world=class ski resort high in the Tianshan Mountains by China's northwest border. Located near the famed Silk Road in Xinjiang, the 12,355-acre site will offer a vertical drop of 3,600 feet, with the first phase – including high-speed lifts, snowmaking, rentals, a ski school, and patrol – scheduled to open in November 2008.

To prepare for the launch, PingTian is practicing American-style corporate raiding. After touring Vail last summer, executives lured away several key employees, including former Director of Mountain Operations Chuck Tolton and 17-year Assistant Patrol Director Billy Mattison. Taking another cue from the megaresort model, the new ski area is being designed by Park City's SE Group, the minds behind Breckenridge and Deer Valley.

The only monkey wrench, it seems, is snow. "It's an arid climate, so there's not a lot compared to Colorado," says PingTian spokesman Clarke Mallery. "But there is some and we'll have plenty of top-class snowmaking."

They'll also have plenty of people to track it up. The China Ski Association believes the country will have up to 10 million skiers by the Year of the White Metal Tiger, 2010. Which is to say, the highway to the Tianshans could soon be as congested as Colorado's I-70 on a Saturday.

DECEMBER 2007