You can’t have a Winter Olympics without snow, but debate rages over what is currently used at events in Beijing.
If you thought it was snowing in Beijing, you would be forgiven.
The truth is that virtually all of the snow in the 2022 Winter Olympics is artificially made, requiring huge amounts of energy and water.
This comes as the reliability of natural conditions becomes more difficult due to climate change.
Only about 10 percent of the snow used for competitions in Zhangjiakou this year is natural, and the percentage of artificial snow used in Yanqing is close to 100.
The International Olympic Committee has estimated that around 223 million liters would be needed to make artificial snow for the Games, enough to fill 90 Olympic swimming pools.
Another way to look at it is a day’s worth of drinking water for nearly 100 million people, according to CNN.
Italian company TechnoAlpin told the USA Network that it supplied all the snowmaking systems and it was the first time that a single company had been tasked with supplying all the snow for the Winter Games.
The company said it began shipping a full arsenal of snow cannons, fan snow generators and cooling towers to Beijing in 2018.
Fake snow criticized
The Olympics has faced both criticism over the environmental impact of artificial snow and concerns over the danger to athletes.
But the IOC issued a statement defending the use of artificial snow, saying it was not the first time it had been used at the Winter Olympics. He said the Olympics in Vancouver 2010, Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018 all relied in part on manufactured snow.
He also said every effort has been made to minimize environmental impact, including snowmaking equipment for Beijing using 100% renewable energy.
“It’s not new. Already in the last five to ten years, we have only skied on artificial snow,” said Bernhard Russi, president of the Alpine Committee of the International Ski Federation (FIS), during a press briefing.
“Sometimes it’s a mix with natural snow, but to have a perfect course for alpine races you need artificial snow to get the right quality.”
Wei Qinghua, mountain operations manager of the Zhangjiakou Guyangshu cluster for the Beijing Games, explained what would happen to the snow afterwards.
“Throughout the Zhangjiakou site complex, the water used for snowmaking comes mainly from rainfall and surface runoff, and the water can be recycled,” he said.
“For water from snowmelt, we have a reservoir and two lakes that can store it so it can then be used for agriculture, irrigation, tourism and landscaping.”
Impact of climate change on the Games
A report conducted by Loughborough University in London, slippery slopesrecently looked at the impact of the climate crisis on the Winter Olympics.
Laura Donaldson, a Scottish freestyle skier who competed at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002, was particularly critical of artificial snow.
“If freestyle super pipes are formed from snowmaking machines during a bad season, the pipe walls are solid, vertical ice and the bottom of the pipe is solid ice. It is dangerous for athletes; some died,” she said.
Philippe Marquis, two-time Winter Olympian and Canada’s top freestyle skier, expressed concern for the safety of athletes in the future.
“From an environmental point of view, the amount of water needed to produce substantial amounts of [artificial] snow to make sure the early season venues are stunning,” he said.
“Yes, we have always needed a boost from artificial snowmaking, but we have reached an irreversible crossroads where artificial snowmaking now carries a heavy burden. Where will we be in five years? Ten years? Fifty years?”
British snowboarder Zoë Gillings-Brier also said: “Artificial snow is less forgiving in the event of a fall.”
The report states that the risk of more serious injuries in the event of a fall is due to the harder surface.
However, in its statement, the IOC said artificial snow does not make skiing more dangerous.
“The controllable and adaptable nature of artificial snow makes it a better choice than the natural version for developing ski courses for elite racing,” he said.
“Thanks to its density and consistency, artificial snow provides consistent and predictable slope conditions.”
Revelations of an almost 100% reliance on artificial snow for the 2022 Winter Olympics have been used to underscore the seriousness of climate change.
In a low-emissions future consistent with a successful Paris agreement, only 13 of the previous 21 host venues (all in the northern hemisphere) of the Winter Olympics would remain reliable for snow sports competition in the 2050s and 12 in the 2080s, according to a recent report. find.
The impact of a high emissions scenario was much worse.
Originally published as Snow at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Isn’t What It Seems