Beijing 2022: How a city without much snow can host the Winter Olympics
Now that Beijing has been chosen as the city to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, it faces a number of obstacles -- outrage over human rights abuses, its strangling pollution and a problem very specific to the season: Where is a city notorious for bone-dry winters going to get enough snow?
Beijing averages just one week of precipitation during winter, according to data tracked by the World Meteorological Organization. In February, when the games will be, it has an average high temperature of about 40 degrees -- well above freezing.
That’s not exactly a recipe for pristine powder, so Beijing will become the latest in a series of Winter Olympic cities forced to make snow good enough to keep skiers and snowboarders happy when the games kick off.
The 2006 Games in Turin, Italy, and the most recent 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, were both held in far-from-frigid climates. Balmy weather in Sochi, where the average February temperature is around 42, left many athletes grumbling about slushy conditions. China may face a similar challenge because a few degrees can make all the difference, and pollution will likely continue to drive the city’s temperature up between now and 2022.
But with money -- many millions of it -- snow-making experts say Chinese officials should be able to craft and maintain enough man-made powder.
“You can make snow as long as you can mix air and water,” said Bob Roberts, who has been the president of the California Ski Industry Assn. for 40 years. “Our snow gets a whole lot more use than Olympic snow is going to get … and if you’re telling me their average daytime temperature is in the 40s, they will have plenty of time in the evening to refresh those snows every single day.”
In Sochi, Russian officials launched a multimillion-dollar program to counter the warmth. More than 400 machines were used to create snow, and organizers stored more than 700,000 cubic meters of snow pack as a fail safe.
That process will likely have to be repeated in Beijing, at a cost that’s unclear. The nearby Yanshan Mountains are unlikely to have a large snowpack on reserve because Beijing gets so little precipitation in winter.
By then, Beijing will probably benefit from more advances in snow-making technology, Roberts said. Today’s machines are already usually computer operated and automatically react to shifts in temperature. They create such convincing snow, Roberts said, that competitors can struggle to differentiate between machine-made powder and the real thing.
“Snow-making today is done at a very high level,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the United States Ski and Snowboard Assn. wouldn’t comment on the choice of Beijing. But, generally speaking, American skiers compete on artificial snow year-round, meaning the shift from natural powder doesn’t automatically affect performance.
That’s why Roberts thinks most of the snow concerns are overblown. Ski resorts that use man-made powder in Southern California have to be able to withstand thousands of runs a day, compared to the handful of competitors slated to traverse the trails in Beijing.
“You can make snow easily. It’s a question of how much can you make? And when you’re looking at the Winter Olympic Games it isn’t so much of a problem,” he said. “You have a very discrete number of runs you have to build and maintain.”
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