Young athletes train at the opening of a program promoting ice sports among youth at a speed skating center in Changchun, Jilin province, on Sunday. JIANG SHENGSONG/FOR CHINA DAILY As the weather becomes warmer, Zhe Liancheng, a ski enthusiast living at the foot of Liupan Mountain in Jingyuan county of Ningxia Hui autonomous region, knows his winter joy is ending. During this winter, Zhe often skied with his wife and children in the ski resort next to his home."I also make friends with some ski lovers," said Zhe. Jingyuan is located in Ningxia's Xihaigu area, which until recently was labeled "the most unfit settlement for humans". Poverty caused by frequent draughts and the terrible ecological environment is deeply entrenched in the memory of locals like Zhe, who were born before the 1980s. People were too busy fighting poverty to enjoy themselves, with never a thought of winter sports, according to Zhe. Benefiting from China's poverty alleviation scheme, local people have gradually shaken off poverty and become better off, with a rising demand for sport to match. Thanks to a great improvement in local ecology, there has been more precipitation from rain and snow. Northwest China's cold and dry winters also make Jingyuan an ideal place to build ski fields. With a couple of ski resorts open here in recent years, local people have become able to embrace winter sports right in front of their homes. "I used to equate sport with fun games. When I grew up, I started to enjoy playing ping pong and now skiing is my new hobby," said Zhe. As the director of the sports center in Jingyuan, Zhe has noticed that as more and more citizens become passionate about exercise and sports, such activities are a new way for people to socialize. Almost every sports enthusiast that Zhe knows has a big network of friends that is built upon sports. Zhe himself has made new friends this ski season. "We used to greet each other with small talk, like asking whether he or she has had breakfast or lunch, but now we usually start a conversation about sport," he smiled. The slogan 'go skiing, my treat!' has become almost a daily expression during this winter holiday. Under the Chinese government's initiative to get 300 million citizens involved themselves in winter sports by 2022, Ningxia has made considerable efforts to improve winter sports facilities and cultivate talents. Data shows that there are 11 ski fields, built in plateau, desert and city areas, which enable ordinary citizens to learn and enjoy winter sports. With a population of no more than 7 million, the annual number of people who engage in winter sports across Ningxia has exceeded 500,000 person times. Winter sports are no longer a luxury for locals. "I used to stay at home the whole winter, but now I like to enjoy the charm of winter and make new friends skiing," said Zhao Ling, a ski lover from Ningxia's capital Yinchuan. Zhao, 58, spends about 25 days every winter skiing across China, and then swims or practices Tai Chi during the rest of the year to keep fit before the next winter. Zhao has traveled to many places across China for different skiing experiences, during which she made friends with many ski lovers, old and young. "I love the feeling of chatting and skiing with them, especially the young," said Zhao."They are more energetic and I feel like I am becoming young again too."