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Altay's wintertime play
2017-12-01 source:Chinadaily
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A Xinjiang prefecture's cold-season allure is heating up. Yang Feiyue reports.

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, Altay's deputy Party secretary Li Bin says.

"Its skiing conditions may well be on par with the Swiss Alps."

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.

And it hosts cultural appeal.

Half of Altay's population is ethnic Kazak.

"Many visitors come to experience local history and health treatments," Li says.

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.

Visitors aged 19 to 45 are a major demographic, Li says.