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How climate change threatens Winter Olympics’ future

How climate change threatens Winter Olympics’ future

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 to ski and frozen temperatures to make 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’s 2022 Winter Games were made possible by innovation, but snowmaking in a warmer climate is limited.

What will the Winter Games be like in another century as global temperatures rises? Is it possible to have them?

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 19 previous Winter Olympics venuesSee 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.
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 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 views clearly show 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.
Artificially made snow covered the finish area of the Alpine ski venue at 2022 Winter Olympics.
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 get warmerOverall, in the coming decades. Warmer air can be a sign of more precipitationIn some areas. It can also signify more winter rain, especially at lower elevations. Snow has been everywhere in the world. Covering a smaller area.

However, these local changes can vary. In Colorado, for instance, snowfall has been decreasing in the northern part of the state. 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.

The future climate could also be More humidWhich Snowmaking can be affectedThis could impact bobsleds, luges and skeleton tracks.

Several barrels blow snow onto one ski run while skiers uses another.
During a test ahead to the 2022 Winter Olympics, snowmaking equipment spray artificially made powder on a ski slope.
AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

The 15 Winter Games sports you can do todaySeven of these are affected by snow and temperature: alpine skiing; biathlon; cross-country skiing; freestyle skiing; Nordic combined, ski jumping, and snowboarding. Three other factors are temperature and humidity that affect bobsled and skeleton.

Technology changes also

Technology has made great strides in recent years. Helped the Winter Games 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 GamesUsed snowmaking to add natural snow to the ski slopes.

Initiatives are currently exploring ways to make skiing available all 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 may be limited to more northerly areas. like Calgary, AlbertaOr be pushed to higher elevations.

Summer Games are also feeling climate pressure

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

To reduce excessive temperatures, you can change the timing of certain summer events to another time. The 2022 World CupNormally a summer event it is now scheduled for November so Qatar can be its host.

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 climate change responses

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

People are delighted by the 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 expectations

The Winter Games’ outdoor sports may look very different in the future. How different will they be? How countries respond is crucial.Climate change.

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