You can’t beg the weather for snow: the Beijing Olympics turned out to be completely “synthetic”

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You can’t beg the weather for snow: the Beijing Olympics turned out to be completely “synthetic”
You can’t beg the weather for snow: the Beijing Olympics turned out to be completely “synthetic”
11 February, 15:40SportPhoto: Wu Diansen/VCG via Getty Images
Beijing is the first Winter Olympics capital in history where every snowflake is artificial. Further it will only get worse.

The Winter Olympics have long been experiencing problems with winter, that is, with snow. At the 2014 Sochi Games, the snow was 80% artificial. At the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang - by 90%. Beijing has entered the history of the Olympics as the first capital that manages to hold it on 100% synthetic snow, writes Business Insider. Back in 2018, the city purchased 100 snow guns and 300 snow cannons, which now cover the bald mountain slopes in its vicinity with a surrogate.

This uses quite staggering amounts of water. Organizers estimate that snow in Zhangjiakou, home of the cross-country skiing competition, will require 192 million gallons of water. And this is in a region that has always experienced its shortage. How much water will be needed for the Yanqing Cluster, which also hosts outdoor competitions, is still unknown. TechnoAlpin, the Italian company that produces snow for the Olympics, estimates that the Games will use about 343 million gallons of water in total. For comparison, this amount can satisfy the daily requirement of almost 900 million people, based on the recommended amount of six glasses a day by doctors. This situation reflects the inevitable future of the Games: the planet is warming and winter sports competitions are becoming less sustainable.

February temperatures in Zhangjiakou and Yanqing usually range from -11 to -1 degrees Celsius, and this is quite enough to support the snow. At the same time, Beijing is one of the snowless cities in the world, with less than an inch of rain per winter month. Back in 2015, experts reported that the snow for the Games would be 100% artificial. At the same time, IOC functionaries stated that they hoped to see the Games as a carbon neutral event, and the Chinese authorities, including Xi Jinping, promised to make them "green, inclusive, open and free from corruption." Even the fire during the opening ceremony was more modest than usual: in this way, China made clear its environmentally friendly intentions.

Nevertheless, independent experts fear that the current Games will become the most environmentally unsustainable winter Olympics. Synthetic snow not only requires huge amounts of water and electricity, but also damages soils and causes erosion. But the main problem is still water.

According to 2017 data, Beijing had 64 cubic meters of fresh water per capita. At the same time, the UN already considers a volume of less than 1,200 cubic meters to be a deficit. In search of the missing water, the Chinese have shown a creative approach. For example, they diverted water from the Baihebao Reservoir into a once-dry river that flows past the Yanqing Olympic Cluster. Previously, this reservoir supplied water to local residents. It was no better in Zhangjiakou: irrigation of agricultural land was stopped there and all farmers were forcibly taken out to install wind turbines and solar power plants on their lands. China promised to fully provide the Olympic Games with clean energy.

Well, for the production of snow, China hired the Italian company TechnoAlpin, which provided them with the previous six winter Olympic games. Hundreds of snow guns brought by TechnoAlpin have been working continuously since November, turning water into a white powdery substance. The operation may seem grandiose, but for TechnoAlpin it is nothing special: the company operates in 13 countries, and its managers say that artificial snow has been a winter sports routine for decades. Their words are confirmed by the chairman of the Alpine Committee of the International Ski Federation Bernhard Russi, who said at a press conference that skiers have been skiing on artificial snow for 5-10 years.

As the climate gets warmer and winter sports become more dependent on synthetic snow, the likelihood of chemicals being used in snow production also grows. In Beijing, the IOC says the snow is clear as temperatures are relatively cool. If it were warmer, then in order to keep the snow “frozen”, pesticides, salt and other ingredients would have to be added to the water, which negatively affects nature. Perhaps this is what awaits the host cities of the next Winter Olympics, Milan and Cortina d'Ampezzo.

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