Maddie Phaneuf, an Olympic biathlete (skiing and shooting) from New York has mixed feelings about this year’s Winter Olympics. She is saddened, but not surprised, that this sporting event must use fake snow, as it is increasingly difficult to predict snowfall worldwide.
It has become clear to Phaneuf that getting the right amount of snow for winter sports is more complicated than it used to be. As a professional athlete, she competed and trained in places like the Dolomites in Italy, with its snowy mountains and long winters, and then had to accept the opposite reality at the 2022 Winter Olympics. .
“You’re imagining these places going to be a wonderful winter wonderland filled with snow, and you go there, just green grass and a completely man-made stretch of white snow.,” she said.
The climate crisis is changing winter weather around the world. In the past, meteorologists were able to predict winter and snowfall fairly accurately, but now they can hardly do so anymore.
This year’s Winter Olympics has both researchers and winter sports athletes worried. Beijing has experienced extremely high levels of pollution and is having to use artificial snow for outdoor sports — this year’s matches have actually used all of it. Seeing this, athletes, scientists and outdoor sports enthusiasts fear that it will become increasingly difficult to organize the Winter Olympics in the future.
Mario Molina, director of Protect Our Winters (POW), a non-profit climate organization, has expressed a desire to appeal to outdoor enthusiasts to advocate and advocate for climate protection, by using Use personal experience and love for winter sports as motivation.
To sound the alarm about a bleak future for winter sports, POW shared research from the University of Waterloo, showing that, “Of the 21 cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics until 2022, only Sapporo in Japan has the necessary qualifications to safely and practically re-host by the end of the 21st century.”
Thomas Painter is a snow researcher at Airborne Snow Observatories Inc., a California-based organization that collects data on snowmelt from large watersheds in the western United States. He explained that the climate crisis is making it more difficult to reliably predict snowfall even for areas of the world that used to have frequent snowy winters.
Some places used to have snow but now it’s just raining, he said. Last year, for the first time in recorded history, the top of the ice in Greenland appeared rain, instead of snow as usual.
The researchers calculated that to keep the Earth’s temperature from rising no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the world would need to adhere to a “carbon budget” that allows emissions in the 1,000 gigatonne range. from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to when the world stopped emitting CO2. However, 80% of this budget was “spent” due to investment activities and infrastructure construction of countries.
Painter pointed to many factors such as rapidly melting glaciers, droughts around the world, and changes in the atmosphere of rivers that are used to predict rain and snowfall. This is a huge change and will affect the decision to choose a place to host the Winter Olympics in the future.
Some sports may be included indoors; Events such as figure skating were held on the courts inside the arena. But athletes like Phaneuf need to train and compete in the open air.
Without regular snowfall and long winters, it can be difficult for areas to maintain enough snow to keep equipment like skis from being damaged by rocks and other elements. Many ski resorts try to have a layer of snow about 20 inches thick before opening; Cross country skiing areas need only a few inches if the area is grassy in the spring. If there is a lot of rock on the ground, there should be more than a few inches of snow. Without that thick layer of snow, skiers could easily be injured by tripping.
When there is not enough snow, some competition organizers have to bring in snow from other areas. Long-distance sports like Phaneuf’s cannot be held indoors, and current conditions have caused many competitions to be canceled or rescheduled due to insufficient snow.
“I used to compete in races where the snow was extremely dirty and full of rocks. And as soon as you skate a kilometer or two, your skateboard is completely damaged… full of scratches and dents.”she said.
When it was not possible to transport real snow, event organizers turned to artificial snow. Beijing had to use completely artificial snow to hold the matches. The history of previous Winter Olympics shows that the use of fake snow has become increasingly common.
Fake snow was used during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. More than half of the snow in the 2014 Sochi matches was also fake snow, and about 90% of the snow in Pyeongchang in 2018 came from snow generators.
Fake snow does not affect sports equipment exactly like natural snow. Artificial snow may look like real snow, but when viewed under a microscope, the structure is very different. Real snow is made up of snowflakes and doesn’t have to be too dense, while fake snow usually consists of water droplets that freeze tightly, creating harder and less secure surfaces.
Scottish freestyle skier Laura Donaldson – who competed at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002 – has pointed out that fake snow really isn’t good for professional sports.
They are more slippery, making jumps and landings less effective. Donaldson said this is also quite dangerous for athletes. “If the superpipes are made of fake snow, the wall of the pipe will be very stiff, which is very dangerous for athletes, can lead to death.”
According to Painter, the existence of real snow at the Winter Olympics will be a measure of how much leaders and the international community have worked to reduce emissions and protect the snow environment while we still can. and them.