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GRINDELWALD, Switzerland (Reuters) - China's wealthy have long flocked to Switzerland for the watches, chocolate and scenery. Now the Alpine country is marketing another national symbol to the Chinese - skiing.
Switzerland is training eight Chinese ski instructors and placing them in St. Moritz, Davos, Zermatt, Gstaad and other resorts for the ski season to teach Chinese tourists, in their own language and with Chinese savoir faire.
With the number of winter overnight stays from Chinese travelers in mountainous regions expected to double by 2017, the Swiss Tourism office said it hoped the instructors would help make Swiss pistes more appealing to Chinese tourists.
In the resort of Grindelwald, 26-year-old Xu Zhongxing, one of the instructors taking part in the program, said the winter sport was gaining in popularity among affluent Chinese.
"In China, we play cards or mahjong in winter, but more and more people want to do outdoor sports and are discovering skiing," Xu told Reuters. "The lifestyle - the clothes, the accessories - are also very fashionable among younger people."
With its alpine resorts and luxury shopping options, Switzerland is already a favored destination for Asian visitors, who tend to stay longer and spend more than their European counterparts.
Swiss tourism officials hope the Swiss-schooled Chinese ski teachers will, back home, become ambassadors for Switzerland's winter tourism industry.
Xu said his home, Chongli County, which is three hours from Beijing, already has four ski resorts in operation and is planning to construct a few more.
The training program should show Chinese visitors there is more to Switzerland than the chocolate, Xu said.
"Here in Grindelwald, after Christmas day, it seemed everybody went out to ski or snowboard or do other sports," Xu said, adding he saw children as young as young as two learning to ski. "These kinds of things really moved me. It's not just winter sports, it's your culture here."
Additional reporting by Katharina Bart and Denis Balibouse; writing by Alice Baghdjian; Editing by Michael Roddy and Larry King