By Xinhua Writer Xuan Liqi
URUMQI, Feb. 9 (Xinhua) -- Mamani never thought he would ski 300 kilometers from his hometown in the mountains to the city of Altay in northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, but the 30-year-old herdsman, along with eight teammates, has just completed an 11-day journey skiing through the Altay Mountains using ancient fur snowboards.
"We hope that more and more people can learn about these ancient fur snowboards and take part in winter sports through our journey," he said.
The fur snowboards, which are made of pine wood and horsehide, have a history dating back more than 12,000 years.
In 2005, an ancient rock painting that depicted people hunting with skis, dating back more than 12,000 years, was found in Altay Prefecture. This discovery has provided solid evidence of the area's long tradition and culture of skiing.
The horsehide, which covers the snowboards, can provide friction when skiers go uphill.
Mamani's first snowboards were made by his father when he was eight years old, but these were not real fur snowboards. Without horsehide, his father tied some ropes onto the snowboards to increase friction.
"Since ropes were not as good as horsehide at providing enough friction, I always failed to climb to the top of mountains using these snowboards," said Mamani.
His father made him a pair of real fur snowboards a year later, and taught a young Mamani how to ski with them.
"These were my favorite toys in my childhood," he said.
The fur snowboards are born for mountains, he added, with the graining of the horsehide providing friction to help them climb mountains, while also helping to slide down the mountain smoothly.
The herdsmen in the Altay Mountains used fur snowboards to hunt and travel through the mountains until the 1980s.
Mamani, who was born in 1989, regards skiing with them as a kind of extreme sport.
The reason for the difference in the use of the fur snowboards between Mamani's generation and that of his ancestors lies in the changes of the herdsmen's lifestyle.
With the construction of roads and the increasing capability of snow removal, the village of Hemu, Mamani's hometown, has become one of the richest villages in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and is also popular among tourists.
Mamani is not a traditional herdsman. He seldom feeds his livestock, but hires other herdsmen to take care of them.
He spends most of his time engaging in tourism, opening a homestay and a restaurant, and renting horses and sleighs for tourists.
Mamani's family earned around 150,000 yuan (22,000 U.S. dollars) last year, of which the income from tourism accounted for 86 percent.
Mamani now spends more time skiing than herding. Since 2008, he has made a pair of fur snowboards every year in order to take part in skiing competitions.
He made a pair of small fur snowboards for his eldest daughter and taught her how to ski with them last year, and he plans to teach his 5-year-old daughter next year.
Mamani never stops studying skiing. He has made a lot of friends with skiers who have come from far and wide to ski in Hemu.
He taught many of them how to ski with the fur snowboards, and they taught him the skills of modern skiing.
The snow in Altay Prefecture is called "powder snow," which is apt for snow sports.
The snow season in Altay lasts for 179 days, and the snow along the Altay Mountains is more than one meter thick on average.
The long snow season, large amount and excellent quality of snow won Altay the award title "Snow Capital of China" from the National Climate Center.
Ski lovers in and around Hemu begin to plot a journey through the Altay Mountains. They planned to spend 10 days traveling 300 kilometers from Baihaba, a village near Hemu, to the city of Altay, traversing over 100 kilometers of uninhabited area.
Although Mamani had never experienced such a long-distance skiing adventure, he was determined to join them after talking with his heavily-pregnant wife.
"I was very confident because I had been to some places along the route where my father had taught me how to ski," he said.
The team of nine herdsmen started the journey, wary of the dangers of snow drifts and getting lost.
On the fourth day of the journey, they climbed over one of the steepest mountains along the route, each dragging 40 kilograms of supplies. Zigzagging up mountains for 20 kilometers, they had traveled more than 44 kilometers in a whole day, including three hours of travel after dark.
On the sixth day, the team arrived in one of the most dangerous valleys, where they came across the footprints of wolves and the remains of wild animals.
On the seventh day, they entered uninhabited areas without communication signals or forests where they could take shelter.
The Altay Mountains extend across China, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia, with the whole length about 2,000 kilometers and the elevation between 1,000 and 3,000 meters.
"There were a lot of dangers on the journey, including falling into one-meter-thick snow, and wading across unfrozen rivers," said Mamani.
"I want to tell my children to face life's difficulties bravely through the journey," he added. "Never giving up is the most valuable lesson that I have learned through skiing, and now I want to teach it to my children."
The government of Altay Prefecture has given a pair of fur snowboards to the Beijing organizing committee for the 2022 Winter Olympics as a gift in 2018, expressing its sincere wishes for a successful Winter Olympics.
China has pledged to have "300 million people involved in snow and ice sports events" as it gears up for the Winter Olympics in 2022.
The country released a 10-year plan in 2016 on developing winter sports, aiming to develop one trillion yuan worth of the winter sports industry by 2025.
It's estimated that there will be more than 1,400 skiing resorts and 35 million people engaging in skiing in China by 2027, according to the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research of Chinese Academy Sciences.
The team's journey ended in a ski resort in the city of Altay, with modern amenities including cable cars.
A total of five primary and secondary schools in Altay Prefecture launched skiing classes for their 7,000 students.
"I can imagine my daughters learning to ski in this resort in the future," Manami said.