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What will the Winter Olympics look and feel like in a warmer world. Only so long can snowmaking defy climate change

What will the Winter Olympics look and feel like in a warmer world. Only so long can snowmaking defy climate change

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

The Winter Olympics is an adrenaline pump as athletes fly at breakneck speeds, gracefully, down snow-covered slopes, luge tracks or over ice.

When the First Olympic Winter GamesChamonix, France hosted the 16 events in 1924. The athletes relied on natural snow to ski and freezing temperatures to make 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 100 years later in 2022, the world witnessed skiers race down runs made of 100% natural snow near Beijing. Ski jumps and luge tracks have their own refrigeration. Four of the original events are now indoors: Figure skaters and speed skaters, as well as curlers and hockey teams, all 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? 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. We looked at 19 venues from the past 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.

These venues could all be affected by snowmaking.

Snowmaking conditions are ideal today. 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 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.
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 made the finish area for the Alpine ski venue at The 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 warmerOverall, in the coming decades. Warmer air could be defined as more precipitationIn some areas. 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. 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.But the decline has accelerated. Mostly, at higher elevations.

Future climates may also be possible More humidThis is the which 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

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 is constantly changing.

Technology has made great strides in recent years. Helped the Winter Games adaptThere have been some changes in the last century.

The indoor hockey was followed by the indoor skating. Refrigerated luge and bobsled tracks were installed In the 1960s. The 1980 Lake Placid Winter GamesUse snowmaking to increase natural snow on 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 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. Energy, if it means that more fossil fuels are used, will be even more scarce. Climate change is a contributor.

The International Olympic Committee recognizesBoth winter and summer, the future climate will have an enormous impact on the Olympics. 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 feel climate pressure too

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 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 are a way for the whole world to come together.

People are delighted by the Athletic featsJean-Claude Killy won the three Alpine skiing events 1968. Stories of perseverance like the 1988 Jamaican bobsled teamCompeting 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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