Artificial system

Artificial snow warnings as Beijing Olympics threatened by climate change

The future of the Winter Olympics is at risk because of climate change, according to a new report from Britain’s Loughborough University.

The warning comes as Beijing prepares for the opening of the 2022 Games this week, the first time a city has hosted both summer and winter events. It will also be the first Winter Olympics to use almost 100% artificial snow, with more than 100 snow generators and 300 snow cannons working to cover the slopes.

artificial snow

Zhangjiakou, located 200 kilometers northwest of Beijing, will host freestyle skiing and snowboarding, cross-country skiing and ski jumping. Despite the biting cold – temperatures reached minus 17 degrees Celsius this week – it rarely snows.

Jacques Fournier, responsible for the Olympic site, is responsible for the snowmobiles. “Here there is no humidity, it is very dry and very windy,” Fournier told Reuters. “So in this kind of condition, the goal and the target is really to compact the snow, and to prepare quickly so as not to drop it. [be blown away] by the wind.

Inherent Hazards

Winter resorts are increasingly turning to artificial snow to compensate for the lack of natural snow cover. However, a new report from Britain’s Loughborough University warns that athletes’ safety could be at risk.

“In sports like biathlon or cross-country skiing or any freestyle event where an athlete throws themselves through the air flipping and falling, you want the surface to be a little softer. And the problem with artificial snow is that it is made up of about 70% ice, compared to natural snow which is made up of about 30% ice. And so the surface is much, much harder,” said report co-author Madeleine Orr, a sports ecologist at Loughborough University, in an interview with VOA.

Melt of ice

American snowboarder Taylor Gold is preparing for Beijing. During his first Winter Olympics, in the Russian resort of Sochi in 2014, he remembers the melting halfpipe.

“They were spraying chemicals on it to try to keep it in shape. But if you go back and look at this event, it’s clear, it was really warm. It wasn’t ideal for snowboarding,” Gold told The Associated Press recently. “It makes me sad that we need so much artificial snow to support winter sports,” he added.

A worker shovels snow in preparation for freestyle skiing and snowboarding events at Genting Snow Park ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics, in Zhangjiakou, China, 31 January 2022.

American alpine skier Lindsey Vonn, who won three Olympic gold medals until her retirement in 2019, has trained and competed all over the world. She says the snow is getting harder and harder to spot. “You go to South America, where we train every summer, August, September. They haven’t had snow for several years in a row, like none,” Vonn told The Associated Press.

Unsuitable climates

Critics say the climates of Sochi and Beijing are unsuitable for hosting the Winter Olympics. But even the high-altitude and mountain ski resorts that have traditionally hosted the games are under threat due to climate change.

“The Northeastern United States for example, and Eastern Canada – we are losing significant amounts of snow there,” Orr says. “And then in places like the Rockies and the [European] Alps, we just don’t have as many as before. So the challenge moving forward will be where can we put these events. And with the Winter Olympics, we’re kind of already there.

Environmental damage

Orr says artificial snow also causes environmental damage.

“When you put artificial snow in a place that has no natural snow at all, like Beijing, you’re putting a lot of water in a place where that soil and plants don’t expect it. And research Previous studies have shown that this can be damaging to local wildlife.”

“But we also expect that when you’re creating that much snow, the power consumption will be extraordinary. The amount of water is extraordinary. In these Olympics, we’re expecting 49 million gallons [185 million liters] of water to use – and that’s if things are going well. So if they have a few hot days and they need to create a little extra snow to offset and compensate for some melting during the games, we could see that number jump up to 50 million gallons. [189 million liters],” Orr told VOA.

Carbon Neutral Olympics

Chinese organizers insist the games will be carbon neutral. All sites should be powered by renewable energy. The rinks will use natural CO2 technology for cooling, instead of ozone-damaging hydrofluorocarbons. The organizers claim that the latest snow cannons consume 20% less water.

Some athletes prefer artificial snow. “The snow is actually amazing, the man-made stuff. I think because of the cold you have to be very aggressive in the way you ride, but you just have to adapt,” said snowboarder Zoi Sadowski-Synnott downhill competing for New Zealand at the Beijing Games.

Olympic organizers will also have to adapt. The Loughborough University report warns that by 2050 less than half of the resorts that have hosted the Winter Olympics so far will have viable snowfall.