How the Coronavirus Forced These International Ski Instructors to Flee China

Photo: Courtesy of Matteo Lucatelli/POWDER Magazine

“Have you heard about this Coronavirus outbreak?” my client asked as we sat on the chairlift.

It was January 22, 2020, and I was working as an international ski instructor in China.

“Not really,” I replied casually.

The night before, our local friend, Shawn (his English name), had told us there was a viral outbreak in some far-off province. However, we’d heard nothing from management, so we weren’t bothered.

china skiing
The entire resort was man-made groomers with B-Net sides. The ruins of the oldest section of the Great Wall of China clearly outline the ridge in the photo. Photo: Courtesy of Matteo Lucatelli/POWDER Magazine

My client continued the conversation enthusiastically, “It originated in the city of Wuhan.”


He kept talking. “I actually visited Wuhan two days after the first cases were reported.”

My head snapped around. “Uh oh,” I announced, trying to sound lighthearted while I mentally calculated how long until I’d no longer by sitting next to him on the chairlift.

He chuckled. “People can’t spread the virus until they show symptoms. I’m safe.”

My phone buzzed. It was our ski school director:

“Team meeting after class. 4.30 p.m., my office.”

skiing china
With no off-piste, powder, touring or trees, the Swiss-designed terrain park was the place to spend free time before the resort closing. Photo: Courtesy of Matteo Lucatelli/POWDER Magazine

My fiancé Patrick and I were in China this winter to work as instructors for the season, teaching at a major resort built for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

The Games will be hosted in what was previously one of the poorest regions in China—a dry, desolate landscape where the barren mountains continue into Mongolia. Receiving almost no natural snowfall, the resort we were working at specializes in snow-making.

Steep groomers streak the mountainside with bright red and blue B-Net marking the boundary between man-made corduroy and frozen dirt. Boasting temperatures down to 40 degrees below zero, and no off-piste, powder, trees or touring, winters in China are a far cry from the multi-faceted resorts of North America.

At 4:30 that day, the ten international team members representing France, England, Switzerland, Russia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and the USA crowded into our director’s office.

We were told children cannot get the virus and that people are not contagious until they show symptoms (we found out later this was false). The ski school said they would purchase face masks for us, and we were to avoid cities, raw foods, certain meats, and shaking hands.

That night, Patrick turned on the VPN (required to access many foreign websites from inside China) and Googled “Coronavirus.”

skiing china
Before the outbreak, a newly opened bullet train greatly increased visitor numbers to the resort, as it cut the travel time to Beijing down to 50 minutes. Photo: Courtesy of Matteo Lucatelli/POWDER Magazine

“A 2-year-old has it,” he said, looking slightly alarmed. “I wonder what else they are wrong about?”

The next morning, things started changing fast.

Reports showed the virus could be spread during the incubation period and clients began to cancel their ski trips and lessons.

On Chinese New Year, January 25, the government closed two resorts near Beijing and the spa and cinema at our resort. Most of the guests had already left.

The following day, the government ordered our resort to report any January guests who had traveled to or from Wuhan. I had to report my client. Local staff started leaving, and management considered busing us out through Mongolia.

The next day, Mongolia closed the border. Eight resorts in the area were closed under government mandate. We waited to be next.

Finally, six days after the virus gained mass international attention, our resort was officially closed, and our season was over.

Patrick went to morning meeting and returned with our skis and gear.

“We have to leave today. China may close the border in 72 hours.”

skiing china
The author, right, and her fiance Patrick, were forced to leave China within six days of news of the outbreak. Photo: Courtesy of Matteo Lucatelli/POWDER Magazine

Life erupted into madness. Everyone was fleeing. Exit procedures had to be completed and the company refused to pay us before we left. We had to leave anyway. After three hours trying to get flights out of China, we caught the last bullet train to the deserted capital, taxied to their airport, slept on our ski bags, and flew out to San Francisco.

A mere 36 hours after we landed, the U.S. Government closed the border to all foreigners arriving from China and our airline cancelled all remaining flights.

Today marks 40 days since we left China and my fiancé and I remain virus-free. While we are settled back in Colorado, the economic impact of the outbreak will continue to show itself in China. Like many employed by Chinese companies right now, unfortunately we have yet to be paid. But are grateful to be home and healthy.

Editor’s Note: On January 31, 2020, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II declared a public health emergency. During the week of February 23, CDC reported community spread of the virus in California (in two places), Oregon, and Washington. This is an emerging, rapidly evolving situation and CDC will provide updated information as it becomes available, in addition to updated guidance here.

This article originally appeared on and was republished with permission.

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