Rising global temperatures threaten the future of the Winter Olympics, according to a study published in Current Issues in Tourism. If global greenhouse gas emissions remain the same, the organizers of the Games will have to work hard to find host cities with enough snow and ice. Of all the former capitals, only Nagano will remain cold enough. Sochi, Vancouver, Turin, Pyeongchang and all other cities will no longer meet the criteria by the end of the century.
During the study, scientists conducted a survey among 339 elite-level athletes and coaches that helped develop four critical weather indicators for winter sports competitions that make competitions unsafe and their outcome largely unfair. These are unacceptably high or low temperatures, rain, sleet and poor snow cover. In places where previous Winter Games were held, the frequency of these weather patterns has increased over the past 50 years, and the trend will continue in the future.
An illustration of unsuitable weather conditions can serve as the January World Cup in Alpine skiing in Zagreb. Lack of snow and high temperatures forced the organizers to stop the men's slalom competition after only 19 competitors competed. But during this time, one of the strongest athletes, the bronze medalist of the previous Olympics, Victor Muffat-Jande, managed to fall and get injured. In the women's slalom competition, these conditions, according to experts, gave a significant advantage to the athletes who started first: with each new participant, the condition of the track worsened. As a result, Petra Vlhova won, starting first, and only 22 out of 60 participants were able to reach the finish line.
The temperature at the Games is steadily rising. If in the 1920s-50s it averaged 0.4°C, then in the 1960s-90s it was 3.1°C, and in the 21st century it was 6.3°C. This forces the organizers to take more and more drastic measures. For example, in Vancouver (2010), snow was transported by helicopter, and in Sochi (2014), the warmest city ever to host the Winter Games, tons of snow were stored from the previous winter. The current Beijing Olympics are raising concerns about their environmental impact. The ski slopes are located in an area where only 2 cm of snow fell from January to March last year. This means that artificial snow will have to be used - it is estimated that this will require about 50 million gallons of water.
Here's what Scottish snowboarder Leslie McKenna, a three-time Olympic champion in snowboarding, has to say about changing weather conditions. Now the athlete is 47, so for at least 30 years she could observe changes in the snow cover on the ski slopes.
“The weather and snow are much less stable now than at the beginning of my career”, - says McKenna. - Very flexible planning is needed if the team wants to get to the best places for training. This means that sports are becoming more exclusive and resource-intensive, which is not good for the athletes or the climate”.
Experts add that the changes apply not only to the Olympics. If measures are not taken to reduce the effects of climate change, then many resort regions will soon say goodbye to winter sports. This will affect the well-being of the local population, and in general the tradition of going to the mountains in winter.