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

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 GamesChamonix, France hosted the 16 events 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 (left) and Gilles Grafstrom, at the Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix in 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 and curlers, as well hockey teams, compete in climate controlled buildings.

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

Recent research has shown that scientists can increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease in children. Looked at the venues of 19 previous Winter OlympicsSee how each one might fare under 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.
In 2014, the Sochi Games used human-made snow to enhance the trails. 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 (California) and Vancouver (British Columbia) would join the list if the world continued to burn fossil fuels at a high rate.

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 air melts snow and other ice. Colder temperatures, which affects snow on ski runs and ice on bobsleds and skeletons.

Stark white lines etched on a swath of brown mountains delineate ski routes and bobsled course.
Satellite images clearly show the absence of natural snow during 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 precipitationSome areas may be affected. It can also indicate more winter rain at lower elevations. All over the world, snow has been Covering a smaller area.

However, local variations can be quite significant. For example, snowfall in northern Colorado has been decreasing. Since the 1970s, it has fallenHowever, the decline has been steady. Mostly at higher elevations.

Future climates may also be possible More humidWhich Snowmaking is affectedThis could impact bobsleds, luges and skeleton tracks.

Several barrels blow snow onto one ski run while skiers uses another.
In preparation for the 2022 Winter Olympics, snowmaking machines spray artificially-made snow on a ski slope.
AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

The 15 Winter Games Sports TodaySeven are affected by weather and snow: biathlon, cross country skiing, freestyle ski, Nordic combined and ski jumping. Temperature and humidity also affect three other items: bobsled (luge), skeleton, and cross-country skiing (cross-country skiing).

Technology is constantly changing.

Technology has made great strides in recent years. The Winter Games were able to adaptThere have been some changes in the last century.

Hockey was moved indoors, and then skating. Refrigerated luge and bobsled tracks were installed In the 1960s. The 1980 Lake Placid Winter GamesSnowmaking was used to increase natural snow on ski slopes.

Initiatives are looking for ways to make skiing year-round. indoor skiing facilities. Ski DubaiFive ski runs are available on the hill at the height of a 25-story building in a resort attached with a shopping center.

Two workers pack snow on an indoor ski slope with a sloped ceiling overhead.
Dubai has an indoor skiing slope that offers multiple runs and a chairlift. It is part of a shopping center 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 become more water-scarce. 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 recognizes the importance 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 feel climate pressure too

The Summer Games face many challenges. High humidity and high temperaturesThese sports are more flexible than winter sports, which can make it difficult to compete in the summer.

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 require snow or ice for all events, making 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 are delighted by the Athletic featsJean-Claude Killy won all three Alpine skiing events in 1968. Stories of perseverance, such as the 1988 Jamaican bobsled teamCompeting beyond all expectations

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

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