Beijing 2022: Winter games without snow

Ground report | New Delhi: Winter games without snow; The warm embrace of climate change is ubiquitous: it is felt at the poles and it is felt in deserts, it is felt in cities and forests, and it is felt, too, in winter sports. The Beijing Winter Olympics, which conclude on Saturday, will be the first in history to use 100% machine-generated snow, prompting protests from some environmental groups. Is the time when biathlon, snowboarding or cross-country skiing done on snow from the sky gone?

According to the Bloomberg report, the 100 generators and 300 Chinese snow guns are using 185 million litres of chemically processed water to make the Games possible. Which is not strange, in view of other recent experiences. The 2014 Games in Sochi, in Russia, used 80% artificial snow; the Pyongyang Games, in North Korea, in 2018, 90%.

A study carried out by the University of Loughborough and the environmental group Protect Our Winters warns about this type of snow, which “not only requires intensive use of energy and water, frequently using chemical substances to slow down the melting, but also creates a surface that many competitors consider unpredictable and potentially dangerous,” the researchers write. “The risk is clear: man-made warming is threatening the long-term future of winter sports. It is also reducing the number of hosting venues for the Winter Olympics.”

The 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, used 80% artificial snow; the Pyongyang Games, in North Korea, in 2018, 90%

Artificial and sustainable snow?

Artificial snow, Scott explains, can be produced sustainably. “In my region of Canada, for example, the power grid is almost entirely nuclear and hydropower, so making snow has a minimal carbon footprint,” says Scott. “China’s power grid has a lot of coal power, it does leave a big carbon footprint. They claim that the Games will be supplied only with renewable energy, but that is difficult to prove when they draw [energy] from their network”.

“As for the water,” he continues, “our region’s ski areas have built reservoirs to capture spring runoff (many help with spring and summer flood control), and an estimated 90% of the water used to generate snow returns to the same basin in spring. That water is available for other uses (ecosystems, recreational, etc). The water to make snow doesn’t need to be chemically treated unless you’re trying to make snow in near-freezing temperatures.”

“The 19 cities that have hosted the Winter Games in recent decades have experienced rising temperatures”

There are signs that this type of snow will become even more common in the future, in winter games like Pekón. Since 1924, when the Winter Games were held in Chamonix, a French resort very close to Italy and Switzerland, 21 different places have hosted these games. Of these 21 places, only 10, according to the study by Loughborough and Protect Our Winters, would be in a position to host the competition in a pure winter climate: with lifelong snow.

Another report from the University of Waterloo, in which Daniel Scott participated, states that all 19 cities that have hosted the Winter Games in recent decades have experienced rising temperatures. 90% of athletes and coaches surveyed say they are concerned that climate change will have negative effects on their sport.

“It would be unrealistic to expect the Winter Games to be held without machine-made snow,” continues the scientist. “Every game since the 1980s in Lake Placid has resorted to some snowmaking and the International Olympic Committee never approves the Games for a host that doesn’t have an advanced snowmaking system to support natural snowfall. They can’t risk there not being enough snowfall to pack down and prepare for the two weeks of racing.”

In most of the places studied, 80%, snowfall was reduced in the fall; at 66% of sites, snowfall decreased in spring. It seems that, in these two seasons, the evolution is clear: less snow. The fundamental reason why the Bing Crosby classic, who dreamed of a “white Christmas”, is ultimately being disproved by the elements.

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