When our tour bus pulls into the Panshan Ski Resort at 8:30 in the morning, I peer out the frosty windows, unsure of what to expect.

Our “guide” walks down the isle, collects a 300 RMB deposit from each of us — (a surprise because we’ve already paid our admission fee) — then disappears for a few minutes into the resort grounds.  When he returns, he hands us each a blue card and explains that we will use this card to rent our equipment (no extra fee for boots and skis, but jackets, pants, goggles and locker rental will cost extra).  When we return our ski equipment in good condition, our guide explains, we’ll be refunded our money for anything not considered an “extra.”

Panshan Ski Resort Entrance
Panshan Ski Resort Entrance

Cards in hand, we stumble out of the bus and take full stock of our surroundings.  Now, I’ve never been skiing before — I’ve been to ski resorts but I’ve never actually skied.  So when we disembark from our bus and get a good glimpse of the area, I am momentarily taken aback.  Apparently, I’m not the only one because someone behind us mutters, “Welcome to the world’s sh**iest ski resort!”

Sam and I glance at each other and giggle a little.  Because, to be honest, that person behind us isn’t too far off the mark.   In terms of ski resorts in the USA, this place would, in all honesty, not pass muster.  But then again, no ski resort in the US would cost a mere 140 RMB (that’s a little over 20 USD) for a two-hour private bus transport, admission, lift and ski rental.  This comparison is, in fact, the exact subject of our conversation as we walk through the entrance gate to the resort grounds.

Once we’re inside the main building, chaos blooms.  People throng around kiosks handing out ski boots, skis, jackets, pants, etc.  At each place, you hand your blue card over for a swipe in exchange for equipment (and yes, they have large shoe sizes, but the largest, I believe, is a European 47/US size 12).  I also rented a large locker, which only set my 300 RMB credit back by 20 RMB, and then it’s off to change.

Jessica in front of lockers, Panshan Ski Resort
Jessica in front of lockers, Panshan Ski Resort.  The orange suit she is holding is the budget ski jacket and snow pants for rent that look rather like a prison suit. (If you’re willing to pay more, you can acquire the more fashionable pink or red outfits instead.)  I joked that these looked a lot like the outfits seen on Stateside roadways, when prisoners do highway cleanup duty.  Jessica said, “Yeah!  It’s like that here, too!”

Changing into your ski-wear can be tricky as you must either do it out in the open by the lockers or you can try your luck in the (not-so-clean) bathrooms located in the main building.  I braved the lockers for slipping on my pants, but when it came time to change out of my ski clothes, I tried the bathroom.  Big mistake.  The bathroom floor was covered in this squishy mat material and, turns out, was saturated with … urine.  This unfortunate fact resulted in a ring of pee at the bottom of my pant legs for our ride home.

Anyway, on to the skiing.

Once equipped, you just hobble outside and start to ski … or at least attempt it.  And if you’re a newbie like me, Panshan is a fantastic place to learn.  For starters, the ground just by the main building is only slightly sloped, so making your way to the bunny hill is about as un-intimidating as ski grounds can get.

nstructor teaching some of our group
Instructor teaching some of our group

Also, most people at Panshan are not expert skiers; in fact, people are wiping out left and right, so you really don’t feel all that conspicuous when you land on your butt over and over.  Finally, Panshan has “instructors” everywhere, readily available for a reasonable sum.  So if you feel that you really need that extra help, it’s no problem at all obtaining it.

Instructor teaching River and Sonny. Bunny slopes far left, highest slope far right
Instructor teaching River and Sunny.  Bunny slopes far left, highest slope far right.  The escalator-lift for the bunny slope can be seen on the left.  It’s that dark line going up the slight incline — you can see the little vertical spikes of people standing on it!

When we went, three “slopes” were open, as well as a course for tubing (which looked like loads of fun, but we were so busy skiing that we never got around to it).  The first slope is the bunny slope, and an outdoor escalator takes you from the base to the top.  That’s right.  An escalator!  It was kind of cool, actually, because you just wobble your way to it, align your skis on the rolling, rubber floor, and then up you go.

While the bunny slope proved a nice pitch for the uninitiated like myself, all of us were a bit overwhelmed by the hordes of people going down it.  All at once.  With no regard to who is beside or below or, inevitably, on top of you.  Pure carnage.

The first time definitely tests one’s mettle as you fly (or splay) past people falling down left and right, but then, if/when you’ve made it to the base, you’ll be back on that escalator before you know it.

Our Rag-Tag Group at Panshan Ski Resort
Our Rag-Tag Group at Panshan Ski Resort

The second slope is considerably taller and steeper.  So steep, in fact, that only a handful of people tried it that day, and out of those, I think I saw about two skiers make it all the way to the bottom without crawling down part of the way.  Happily, another escalator can take the more trepidant a little over halfway up, and that option is completely worth it.

The third slope is not one that anyone actually skied down – at least not on the day that we went.  A few snowmobiles zoom up those heights, but for our little group outing, the bunny slope and the second hill prove so much fun – even after most of us tumble down a few times – that we spend the rest of the day there.

By three o’clock, we are informed by our guide that it is time to clock out.  We return our things, hand in our blue cards and get our deposits back at another kiosk in the main building.  And as we climb back into the bus, I pause at the door for one last glance at the “resort” grounds.

This time, I don’t just see a rather dilapidated gate leading to three gray-white hills that make up the slopes of Panshan.  Instead, I see a place that has something very special going for it.

Angel, modeling Panshan's fabulous prison wear!

Because here, skiing is about as unassuming as it gets. No arrogant ski pros or kids accustomed to chalet winters here.  Nope, this place offers nothing but a fun, un-intimidating day on the slopes where you can actually learn how to ski.

But the best thing of all?  It only costs 140 RMB … and a few bruises.

Fast Facts:

Ji County (about a 2-hour bus ride north from Tianjin) has three ski resorts in the area: Panshan Ski Resort, Yulong Ski Resort and Jizhou International Ski Resort.  All three are ridiculously affordable by US standards with similar deposit-use methods for ski equipment.  Below is a run down on Panshan’s costs and directions.

Address: Panshan Ski Resort, 500m west of Guanzhuang Township, Ji County, Tianjin
地址:天津市近郊蓟县城西8公里处官庄镇西500米, 盘山滑雪场
Tel: 159 2223 7057

Operating hours: beginning in Dec, 9:00-16:00

Price (includes admission, ski and boot rental and the slope “escalators”): 60 RMB/day (Nov 24-30 only), 148 RMB/day (weekdays), 188 RMB/day (weekends and holidays)

Clothing rental: 30 RMB (used), 40 RMB (new)

Tube rental: 60 RMB

Getting there:  You can hire a tour bus through any number of travel agencies in town (that’s what our group did and we received a slight discount from 148 RMB to 140 RMB as a result, which included admission fee, ski rental and transport) or you can take local transport).  Listed below are directions for public bus and taxi, taken from  echinacities.com:

Take a bus from Tianjin Hebei Coach Station (天津河北客运站) leaving every 15 minutes from 6:00-19:00 to Ji County Coach Station (蓟县客运站) then take a bus or taxi to Panshan (盘山)

Other Sights Nearby:  The Qing Dynasty Tombs and the Huangya Pass Great Wall.

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