But Beijing’s Big Air Shougang Olympic venue is drawing attention for its much edgier, urban setting.
Behind the skiers launching themselves off the 60-meter-high (196-foot) ramp are furnaces, tall chimney stacks and cooling towers on the site of a former steel mill that for decades contributed to the Chinese capital’s notoriously polluted skies.
The mill, founded in 1919, ceased operations more than 15 years ago, as part of efforts to clear the air in the capital ahead of the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Instead, the old mill has been incorporated into Big Air Shougang’s design. One of the cooling towers even bears the logo for the Games.
Some Twitter users wondered if it might be a nuclear plant.
TeamMinus outlined the inspiration behind its design on its website, citing the influence of Chinese flying apsaras, celestial beings which appear in both Buddhist and Hindu cultures.
The Beijing government calls the site a “Green and Eco Demonstration Area,” according to ARUP, that could be scaled up in other parts of the country.
While the regeneration project is a good example of how to repurpose aging infrastructure, the mill’s closure was not necessarily a “green” decision, as operations — and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with steelmaking — were in actual fact moved to another part of the country.
In 2005, the entire production plant, which is owned and operated by stated-owned steel company the Shougang Group, relocated to Caofeidian, in the adjoining Hebei Province, according to ARUP.
The decision to move the plant was part of the Beijing government’s economic restructuring and pollution control initiatives.
The Beijing Organizing Committee did not respond to CNN’s request for comment over whether it was aware the ski center was built inside the former core area of the nature reserve. But in a reply to CNN, the IOC said the development of the Yanqing zone is “transforming the region — a rural suburb of Beijing — into a major four-season tourism destination, improving lives and boosting the local economy.”
This story has been updated to reflect the events that take place in Shougang.
Journalist Lianne Kolirin reported from London, and Nectar Gan and Tom Booth reported from Beijing.