By Sportswriters Yao Youming, Wang Haofei and Zhou Wanpeng

CHANGCHUN, China, Jan. 4 (Xinhua) -- Over the past 15 years, the Vasaloppet Skiing Festival has both promoted skiing in China and helped foreign skiers learn more about the host country of the 2022 Winter Olympics, organizers here said on Wednesday.

More than 5,000 professional skiers from over 30 countries and regions took part in this year's Visma Skiing Classics at the event in Changchun, up from 200 participants in 2003 when the ski marathon event was launched in China.

"Vasaloppet China Festival is a bridge beyond sports," said Guan Shusen, the president of Vasaloppet China.

Organizers laud the progress that has been made since the event moved to China.

"We have made incredible progress these years," said Gavert Waag, founder of Vasaloppet China. "The event has not only enhanced the understanding of foreign skiers about China, but also provided a platform to amateur skiers from all over the world."

"It will be the best ski festival in the world before the 2022 Winter Olympics," he added.

An annual long distance cross-country skiing race, the Vasaloppet was launched in Sweden in 1922. China joined the Worldloppet Ski Federation in 2014, making the event one of the major cross-country skiing competitions in the world.

After being imported to China, the festival opened a window to the oriental country to Nordic peoples. Local artists built countless snow sculptures featuring ancient Chinese architecture and historic sites along the skiing tracks, offering a feast for the eyes of skiers from around the world.

And as the competiting arrives at its 15th anniversary, Chinese skiers have managed to end the domination of the Nordics in some of the tough games.

Chinese skiers proved to be unbeatable in the ski sprint at Deer Valley on Tuesday. Man Dandan took first place in the ladies sprint final of the FIS China Tour de Ski Changchun stage, and Zhu Mingliang snatched the gold medal in the men's event.

Sporting officials note that China has been strengthening in this area of winter sports over the past several years.

"China has gradually learned how to improve its competitiveness in cross-country ski events since 2003, several years before China's bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics," said Zhao Xiaolu, deputy director of the Changchun sports bureau.

Liu Guangda, a college sports teacher, told Xinhua that more than 700,000 college students in Changchun studied cross-country ski skills in the past 15 years.

"Vasaloppet China has provided Chinese skiers a chance to learn from world-class athletes," he noted.

To better promote the sport, along with winter tourism, organizers have also expanded the two-day event to include activities that stretch out over three months.

"We wanted to develop interest among Chinese families in skiing and make skiing an enjoyable way to spend the holidays, so we prolonged the festival duration," said Waag.

Liu Peng, former director of China's General Administration of Sport, also stressed the role that winter sports can play in public health. "The development of winter sports in China (can help) improve public fitness and lifestyles," he said.

The festival has also had a tangible economic impact. As winter tourism developed rapidly, companies related to winter sports mushroomed around the Changchun Jingyue National High-tech Industrial Development Zone, where the Vasaloppet Skiing Festival is held every year.

"Developing winter sports seems to have started an engine of economics in China," said Guan.

"(In this sense), the Vasaloppet China is always exploring, or pioneering," Guan added.

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