BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) — Ski racers settling into the start gate for Alpine World Cup events in the Rocky Mountains in early December squinted through sunshine that carried the temperature toward 50 degrees and glanced down at a course covered with pristine — and manufactured — snow.
They could see the finish line and the hills beyond it.
It is a troubling reality and — given their own reliance on the production of snow, continent-hopping flights powered by diesel fuel and other environment-unfriendly offshoots of their careers — hard-to-reconcile push-and-pull for many of those who will be competing in Alpine skiing or freestyle skiing or snowboarding or Nordic combined events or other outdoor sports that helped put the disappearing “Winter” in Winter Games.
“Climate Change is here. It’s happening. It’s happening right now. It’s not something we’ll see in the distant future. It’s here. It’s evident with the fires in California and floods in Europe. It affects all aspects of life. It is having an effect on everyone around the globe. There’s no turning back,” Travis Ganong, a 33 year-old skier from California, said.
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He said, “Selfishly I hope winters will be here in the future.” “But it’s certainly not looking good.”
Global warming is threatening his and other sports and it’s not just the elite. It affects people who want to ski or board for fun, as well as those who make a living out of such activities.
This affects everyone on the planet.
One example: Colorado set a record for the longest consecutive day without snowfall since 1880s. After only one inch of snowfall between Dec. 30 and December 30, Colorado saw warm temperatures that led to hundreds of home losses.
According to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the last eight years are the hottest ever recorded for Earth.
“The glaciers have receded.” John Kucera (2009 world downhill champion) said that the winter is ending earlier than expected. He is now a coach for Canada’s Alpine Team. “For a sport as important as ours, it might be more costly than other sports. The climate and weather are key factors in what we can do.
The fallout is widespread.
It’s harder to find glaciers suitable for training, so athletes need to search for new locales — or even head indoors. It is more difficult to hold World Cup events due to too much wind, too much snow, or too little snow leading to postponements and cancellations.
It is harder to find snow in real places, so machine-made snow is increasingly being used. This has its own negative effects on the environment. High speeds, steep inclines, and sharp angles make danger a constant presence on Alpine skiing. However, injury-causing accidents are becoming more common in Nordic skiing and biathlon due to the harder, slicker tracks created by humans.
“We have seen a decrease in snowfall everywhere. We’re seeing less snow in places that were once winter wonderlands. And they’re getting less snow some years,” Taylor Fletcher, a Colorado native, said. He is based out of Utah and has made his fourth Olympic team for Nordic combined.
Many Winter Olympians have similar observations.
Marta Bassino of Italy, last season’s World Cup giant-slalom champion, joked, “But I see the world with my eyes.”
Alexis Pinturault was a three-time Olympic gold medalist for France. He recalls hitting the slopes of Tignes in France’s Alps 20 year ago but says that it’s “almost impossible to ski there anymore.” Winter Vinecki, a U.S. aerials skier, recalls an event in Belarus, where she competed amid water puddles, instead of in a season-appropriate environment. Taylor Gold, an American snowboarder and part of Protect Our Winters (an athlete-driven environmental group), says that the ideal scenario is a halfpipe entirely made of natural snow. But that’s not possible any more.
A recent study in “Current Issues in Tourism,” showed that only one of 21 Winter Olympics sites would be able provide fair and safe conditions without a drastic reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions.
Researchers from the United States, Canada, and Austria determined that only three of the 12 European cities that hosted Winter Games were reliable sites by 2050, despite their low emissions.
“Part of what papers like this do is to get a message out that there is a lot of influence… and so, we can act to avoid those worst-case scenarios,” said Daniel Scott (a professor at the University of Waterloo) who co-authored the study “Climate change, the future of Olympic Winter Games: athlete perspectives”.
“People are going to have to hold their elected officials accountable,” Scott said, “because I pledge to lose weight every New Year’s Eve — and that doesn’t always pan out.”
According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), future hosts will be contractually required to be climate friendly. Beijing Games are expected not to be affected by climate change. All venues are expected be powered entirely by renewable energy. Four of the four ice rinks in Beijing will use natural CO2 technology to cool.
Tom Johnston, a Wyoming rancher, oversees the shaping of manufactured snow into Beijing’s Alpine courses. Although they might be cold, they are not missing real flakes. He has his own concerns regarding both his pursuits: Prepping ski slopes and back home, producing alfalfa.
He deals with warmer-and-later-than-they-used-to-be winters in Colorado and Vermont that make staging World Cup races a challenge — and with drought conditions that affect his farm.
Johnston said that “there’s going to problems” and wondered if future Games dates might need to change. “But I think that sports is the last worry regarding climate change, compared with food.”
There are many efforts being made. Some on an individual basis. Some on a much larger scale.
The National Ski Areas Association — a trade group that represents more than 300 Alpine resorts in the U.S. — started a “Climate Challenge” a decade ago to push its 300-plus members to monitor and reduce their carbon footprint. 31 ski areas participated in the 2020-21 season.
Mikaela Shiffrin, a two-time Olympic champion, is aware of the burden that airline travel imposes on her due to the World Cup calendar. She is especially concerned when she thinks back to the stretch that carried female racers across three weeks in November and 2012.
Shiffrin, a Colorado native, said that she is worried about her sport’s future, but also about how much time they have left before it all catches up to them. “Sometimes I seriously consider giving up races because it’s one less plane trip to take. It would be a small contribution towards a very large problem.
Shiffrin and Maddie Mastro, an American snowboarder, have said they have reduced their consumption of meat because it is harmful to the planet. Vinecki is able to grow her own fruits and vegetables in her home’s aeroponic garden. Ganong, like Ryan Cochran-Siegle, a fellow American, and Vincent Kriechmayr (an Austrian who won two medals at the 2021 Alpine World Championships), prefers to ride a bicycle. Keely Cashman is a first-time U.S. Olympian at Alpine skiing. She limits the amount of new equipment she can purchase.
Some people think it’s too late.
“The reality is that the ship has gone, unfortunately,” says my opinion. We haven’t made necessary changes. We have kind of missed the window,” Bode Mills, who won six U.S. Olympic Alpine medals in 2002-14, said. “So we are faced with what is, which is a changing climate. Over my lifetime, and most certainly my children’s, we’ll see some really dramatic things go down.”
Miller is an investor in Alpine-X and the public face of the group. The group works to build indoor snowsports venues throughout the U.S.
For training in technical events, some ski racers use indoor areas in Europe. Could World Cup events become a reality? Remember: Figure skating and hockey were contested outdoors at the Olympics. It’s possible that other sports could move inside.
Another option: You could try looking for new race sites, or go to higher places in the mountains where it is colder and more likely that you will see real snow.
Ted Ligety, an American who won Olympic Alpine Golds in 2006 and 2014, stated that while indoor skiing is fine in New Jersey, it’s not the same as skiing outdoors in Austria. “There is no denying the beauty of the outdoors, the fresh air.”
WINTER OLYMPICS: PHOTO ARCHIVE
Photos: Winter Olympic Mascots through the Years
2022: Beijing Games
2022: Beijing Games
2018: Pyeongchang Games
2018: Pyeongchang Games
2014: Sochi Games
2010: Vancouver Games
2006: Torino Games
2002: Salt Lake City Games
1998: Nagano Games
1994: Lillehammer Games
1988: Calgary Games
1984: Sarajevo Games
1984: Sarajevo Games
1976: Innsbruck Games
1976: Innsbruck Games
AP PHOTOS – Winter Olympic mascots over the years
One was determined by a newspaper poll, the other by a public vote, and the third by a contest. From thousands of entries from children around the world, the most recent winner was selected. The Winter Olympics mascots have varied over the years from abstract forms to animals to humans.
They are still a part of the public’s collective memory.
Bing Dwen Dwen is the 2022 Beijing Olympics’ official mascot, but there have been many before.
Shuss was an abstracted-looking man on skis who was the first official mascot of a Winter Olympics. He was the mascot of the 1968 Grenoble Games. They were held in the colors France: blue, red, and white.
Norwegian children Haakon, and Kristin, were the first mascots to be dressed in Viking attires. The 1994 Lillehammer mascots are said to have been inspired by historical figures Håkon IV Håkonson, the 13th century king of Norway, and his aunt Princess Kristin.
Schneemandl is credited with being a commercial success that inspired living mascots. Austrian for “Snowman,” Schneemandl was the mascot for the 1976 Innsbruck Games.
A wolf isn’t an expected character for a mascot but the 1984 Sarajevo Games transformed an animal known to be feared into a friendly image. Yugoslavian folklore has the wolf as a symbol of winter. Vučko the wolf was chosen through a contest with hundreds of participants.
Gliz and Neve were the Turin Olympics mascots in 2006. Gliz is an ice cube and Neve a snowball.
In Beijing, Bing Dwen Dwen is everywhere — on buses, at street corners and hanging from the rafters at some official Olympic venues. He is the face those in the Beijing Games strict Olympic bubble will take with them.
Andrew Dampf, AP sports writer, in Modena (Italy), and Brittany Peterson from Associated Press, Copper Mountain (Colorado) contributed.
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