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How climate change threatens the Winter Olympics’ future – even snowmaking has limits for saving it

How climate change threatens the Winter Olympics’ future – even snowmaking has limits for saving it

Two skaters on ice outside with mountains in the background. They are posing as if gliding together.

The Winter Olympics is an adrenaline rush. Athletes fly down snow-covered ski slopes and luge tracks, and over the ice with grace at breakneck speeds.

When the First Olympic Winter GamesAll 16 events were held outdoors in Chamonix in France in 1924. The athletes used natural snow for their ski runs and frozen temperatures for their ice rinks.

Two skaters on ice outside with mountains in the background. They are posing as if gliding together.
Sonja Henie and Gilles Grafstrom at Chamonix’s Olympic Winter Games, France in 1924.
The Associated Press

Nearly a century later in 2022, the world witnessed skiers race down runs made of 100% natural snow near Beijing. The original four events, including the luge tracks and ski jumps, are now indoors. Figure skaters as well speed skaters as curlers, hockey teams and speed skaters all compete in climate controlled buildings.

Beijing hosted the 2022 Winter Games. Innovation was key, but snowmaking is only possible in a warming climate.

What will the Winter Games look like in 2025 as global temperatures rise? Will they ever be possible?

Cities that were not suitable as hosts in the past

The average daytime temperatureSince Chamonix’s first Winter Games, the number of Winter Games host cities has steadily increased. It rose from 33 degrees Fahrenheit (0.4 C), in the 1920s-1950s, to 46 F (7.8 C), in the early 21st Century.

Scientists have recently conducted a study. Looked at the venues of 19 previous Winter OlympicsTo see how they might hold up against future climate change.

A cross-country skier falls in front of another during a race. The second skier has his mouth open as if shouting.
The trails of the 2014 Sochi Games were augmented with human-made snow. Some athletes complained that it made trails icy and more dangerous.
AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky

They found that by midcentury, four former host cities – Chamonix; Sochi, Russia; Grenoble, France; and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany – would no longer have a reliable climate for hosting the Games, even under the United Nations’ best-case scenario for climate change, which assumes the world quickly cuts its greenhouse gas emissions. Squaw Valley in California and Vancouver, British Columbia would be added to that list if the world continues to burn fossil fuels at high levels.

By the 2080s, the scientists found, the climates in 11 of 21 former venues would be too unreliable to host the Winter Olympics’ outdoor events; among them were Turin, Italy; Nagano, Japan; and Innsbruck, Austria.

All of these venues could be affected by snowmaking.

The best snowmaking conditions require that you have the following: Temperature at dewpoint – the combination of coldness and humidity – of around 28 F (-2 C) or less. More moisture in the air melts ice and snow. Colder temperaturesThis affects snow on ski slopes as well as ice on bobsleds, skeletons, and luge tracks.

Stark white lines etched on a swath of brown mountains delineate ski routes and bobsled course.
A satellite view clearly shows that there was no natural snow during the 2022 Winter Olympics. Beijing’s bid to host the Winter Games had explained how extensively it would rely on snowmaking.
Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory
A gondola passes by with dark ground below and white ski slopes behind it.
The artificially created snow made the finish area for the Alpine ski venue at this year’s 2022 Winter Olympics white.
AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

As Colorado snow Sustainability scientists and avid skiers, we’ve been watching the developments and studying the climate impact on the mountains and winter sports we love.

Conditions can vary from one year to the next depending on where you live.

The Earth’s The climate will become warmerIn the next decade. Warmer air can be a sign of more precipitationIn some areas. It can also signify more winter rain, especially at lower elevations. All over the world, snow has been Covering a smaller area.

However, these local changes can vary. In northern Colorado, for example, the amount snow has decreased. The 1970s saw a decrease in the number of people who were able to afford it.However, the decline has been steady. Mostly, at higher elevations.

Future climates may also be possible More humidWhich? Snowmaking is affectedThis could impact bobsled, lame and skeleton tracks.

Several barrels blow snow onto one ski run while skiers uses another.
Snowmaking machines spray artificially created snow on a ski track during a test ahead the 2022 Winter Olympics.
AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

Of the 15 Winter Games sports you can do todaySeven are affected by weather and snow: biathlon, cross country skiing, freestyle ski, Nordic combined and ski jumping. Three other factors are temperature and humidity that affect bobsled and skeleton.

Technology changes also

Technology advancements have had a profound impact on our lives. Helped the Winter Games adaptThere have been some changes in the last century.

Hockey was moved indoors, and then skating. The refrigerated tracks for luge and bobsled were used. In the 1960s. The 1980 Lake Placid Winter GamesUsed snowmaking to add natural snow to the ski slopes.

Initiatives are looking for ways to make skiing year-round. indoor skiing facilities. Ski DubaiThe resort, which has been open since 2005, features five ski runs on a hill that is the height of 25-story buildings.

Two workers pack snow on an indoor ski slope with a sloped ceiling overhead.
Dubai has an indoor ski area with multiple runs, as well as a chairlift. All of this is part and parcel of a shopping complex.
AP Photo/Jon Gambrell

But making snow and keeping it cold requires energy and water – and both become issues in a warming world. Many areas are more depleted of water. If it means more fossil fuel usage, energy is even more scarce. Climate change is a contributor.

The International Olympic Committee recognizesThe future climate will have a significant impact on the Olympics’ winter and summer seasons. It also recognizes how important it is to ensure adaptations are sustainable.

The Winter Olympics could be restricted to more northern locations like Calgary, AlbertaPush to, or a push to higher elevations.

Summer Games are also feeling climate pressure

The Summer Games face many challenges. High humidity and hot temperaturesWhile it can be difficult to compete in summer sports, these sports offer more flexibility than winter sports.

Excessive temperatures can be reduced by changing the timing of summer events to another season. The 2022 World CupThe event, which is normally held in the summer, will be held in November so that Qatar can host it.

The Winter Games’ need for snow or ice to all events makes adaptation more difficult.

A snowboarder with 'USA' on her gloves puts her arms out for balance on a run.
Climate change threatens the ideal environments for snowboarders, like U.S. Olympian Hailey Langland, competing here during the women’s snowboard big air final in Beijing.
AP Photo/Jae H. Hong

Future depends on how we respond to climate change

In uncertain times, the Olympics allow the world to come together.

People love the idea of it. At the Olympics, athletic featsJean-Claude Killy won all three Alpine skiing events in 1968. Stories of perseverance, such as the 1988 Jamaican bobsled teamsCompeting beyond all expectations

The Winter Games’ outdoor sports may look very different in the future. How will the future look? How countries respond will have a significant impact on their ability to compete.Climate change.

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