GLIMPSES: The vibe's industrial chic at Olympic big air run

Associated Press photographer Jae C

BEIJING -- Canadian freestyle skier Elena Gaskell twists and bends backward to grab her ski as she takes flight off the end of a manufactured ramp covered in snow.

Associated Press photographer Jae C. Hong captured her in midair on Sunday, framed against a wintry sky and a pair of smokestacks. From this perspective Gaskell appears to be higher than a dense cluster of high-rise buildings in the distance. Not in the shot: hulking cooling towers nearby that look like the set of a post-apocalyptic film.

A pristine Alpine piste this is not.

The extreme sport known as big air made its Olympic debut for snowboarders at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. Now the skiers are out there, too, catching air against the backdrop of a former steel mill on the western edge of Beijing’s urban sprawl.

The incongruous scene at Big Air Shougang is a reminder that Beijing isn’t known as much of a winter sports destination. Most of the downhill action is happening at mountain sites far from the Chinese capital itself.

It's also a surprising nod to the fact that industrial powerhouse China remains the world’s biggest carbon polluter, even if this site's furnaces have gone cold.

And yet the urban industrial run has managed to charm many of those who’ve made it there so far — athletes and viewers alike.

“To me, it was just such a contrast,” said Hong, who's covering the action at Shougang. “It seemed dark. But with the live music and this cool venue like I’ve never seen in an industrial district, I think it works.”

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