A Xinjiang prefecture's cold-season allure is heating up. Altay has long been beloved as a summer getaway, but it has increasingly been conjuring up charm as a winter wonderland.The prefecture in the north of China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region is coated with "quality snow" for up to 180 days a year.Some archeologists believe the area was among the first places where humans discovered skiing. Paleolithic rock paintings of people using skis were discovered in 2005.Primitive larch forests ring Kanas Lake. Surrounding aspens and birches are sheathed in rime. The surrounding snow can average up to 2 meters deep in winter.
Altay's cool summertime weather - averaging between 0.2 C and 4 C - has long made it an ideal summer getaway.Visitors explore its glacial rivers, forests and marshes when its temperatures peak.And increasingly now as they plummet, too. The prefecture is dotted with geological and forest parks.Many visitors come to experience local history and health treatments.They watch Kazak hunters use golden eagles to catch rabbits.The prefecture received nearly 15 million visits in the first nine months of this year, a nearly 50 percent increase over the same period last year. Tourism income also increased by about 50 percent to exceed 9.3 billion yuan ($1.4 billion) during the period.
Altay has launched winter tours featuring such activities as helicopter rides, fishing and folk sports.The Altay Mountain Wild Snow Park lies about 20 kilometers from the city's downtown, and offers skiing and a helicopter experience that hovers over a 2,800-meter-high peak. It also offers wilderness hikes and horsedrawn sleigh rides.Jiangjunshan Ski Resort - just over 1 km outside of town - offers 18 trails of various degrees of difficulty spanning 20 km in total. The International Ski Federation has certified some of its slalom trails.Visitors can stay in Tuva people's traditional houses in Kanas.Locals still use traditional skis made from pine and fur, the essential style of which may date back to 12,000 years. They still hold annual competitions using this footwear to race across snow.Altay's Baihaba was named among China's most beautiful towns for its pristine environment and ancient traditions.Another major draw in the prefecture is Fuhai county's Ulungur Lake.The body of water is a major fishing site. Its history of ice fishing has morphed into a draw for travelers. Visitors can witness the worship rituals and fish auctions. Altay may be a cold place to visit in winter but that's part of its appeal.