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BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - China's iconic national stadium, rarely used since the Olympics, has found a new purpose: hosting a snowy winter wonderland in the heart of Beijing.
Mounds of artificial snow and mini ski slopes await the scores of local visitors and tourists who are expected to flock to the snow festival's opening this Saturday to reacquaint themselves with the Bird's Nest which dazzled millions during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, but which has since largely lacked the roar of the crowd.
"We believe that we will be able to provide a fun, interesting, snow world for this Christmas," the stadium's media spokesperson, Xiang Jun, told Reuters.
The symbol of the Beijing Olympics, the Bird's Nest has secured its place among more ancient Chinese tourist attractions such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.
However, managers of the $500 million stadium have struggled to find a role for this landmark arena which many fear could become the mother of all white elephants.
With Beijing's average winter temperatures hovering at just above zero degrees Celsius (32 F), the number of visitors to the Bird's Nest has recently dropped by a further 30 percent compared to peak season, Xiang said.
He is hoping to capitalize on the Chinese fad for Christmas, when city dwellers flock to bars and nightclubs, restaurants offer special discounts, and salesmen wear Santa hats.
"We have prepared some special activities for Christmas. The Bird's Nest will stay open late on Christmas Eve. We will advertise and promote our activities," Xiang said.
Creating this snowy wonderland does not come cheap. It will cost the company running the sports ground some 50 million yuan ($7.3 million) to complete and maintain the transformation.
Huairou Ski Resort, outside Beijing, has contributed technicians, and snow machines have been pumping out artificial snow over the grounds 24 hours a day since December 10.
"We will make a big pile of snow. This stadium is a small place," said Shen Shunshan, the manager of Huaibei Ski Resort.
"We will stock up on snow just in case that warm weather makes the snow melt."
With more than 50,000 square meters of land to cover, around 25,000 cubic meters of water is needed to make snow, Shen said.
Arid Beijing has chronic water shortage problems, but that hasn't daunted the organizers.
The stadium has tried to make the event slightly more environmentally friendly by using recycled water to produce the snow. When the snow melts, the water will go back to the city's water recycling system, organizers said.
They hope the snow festival will attract hordes of visitors from mainland China, as well as brave souls from southern cities like Hong Kong and Taipei, where the weather rarely dips under 10 degrees Celsius.
Writing by Lucy Hornby, editing by Miral Fahmy