But Beijing’s Big Air Shougang Olympic site is attracting attention for its much more avant-garde urban setting.
Behind skiers launching down the 60-metre-high (196-foot) ramp are furnaces, tall chimneys and cooling towers on the site of a former steelworks that for decades contributed to the notoriously polluted skies of the Chinese capital.
The factory, founded in 1919, ceased operations more than 15 years ago, as part of efforts to clean 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 Games logo.
Some Twitter users wondered if it was a nuclear power plant.
TeamMinus described the inspiration behind its design on its website, citing the influence of Chinese flying apsaras, celestial beings that appear in both Buddhist and Hindu cultures.
The Beijing government calls the site a “green and ecological demonstration zone”, according to ARUP, which could be extended to other parts of the country.
While the regeneration project is a good example of how to repurpose aging infrastructure, closing the plant was not necessarily a “green” decision, as operations – and the associated greenhouse gas emissions to steelmaking – have actually been moved to another part of the country.
In 2005, the entire production plant, owned and operated by state-owned steel company Shougang Group, moved to Caofeidian in neighboring 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 as to whether it knew the ski center was built inside the former core area of the nature reserve. But in a response to CNN, the IOC said the development of the Yanqing area is “transforming the area – a rural suburb of Beijing – into a major four-season tourist destination, improving lives and boosting the local economy.”
This story has been updated to reflect the events unfolding in Shougang.
Journalist Lianne Kolirin reported from London, and Nectar Gan and Tom Booth reported from Beijing.