Organizers of the 2022 Winter Olympics, which officially opened on Friday, have been using dozens of snow generators and hundreds of snowblowers to create 1.2 million cubic meters of powder (or about 42.4 million cubic feet).
The Games in Beijing will mark the first time athletes will compete almost entirely on artificial snow, according to a report from London’s Loughbough University.
That’ll likely become the norm as climate change continues, according to the report’s findings, starting with lower-altitude slopes and raising pressure and costs on higher-[altitude] resorts.
But generating fake snow has a high environmental cost, the authors say. Even if powered by renewables, a huge amount of energy is needed which is both costly and can be a significant drain on water resources.
And winter athletes say the artificial turf is less safe.
Artificial snow is icier, therefore faster and more dangerous, Estonian biathlete Johanna Taliharm told the Associated Press in January. It also hurts more if you fall outside of the course when there is no fluffy snowbank, but a rocky and muddy hard ground.
Team USA cross-country coach Chris Grover said landing in it “can feel like falling on concrete.
Not everyone is critical of the fake stuff. Australian snowboarder Matt Cox, who’s making his Olympic debut at Beijing, told Reuters that with the cold temps here, it’s dreamy snow.
Artificial snow is more of a tightly packed frozen slush, made from water droplets that are broken up by a high-pressure pump and then crystalize into frozen flakes.
The International Olympic Committee maintains that artificial snow is used regularly at International Ski Federation competitions and does not make the courses more dangerous.
To the contrary, it creates a more consistent surface from the top to bottom — or start to finish — of a course, an IOC spokesperson told CNET. The iciness and density of the surface is dependent on the needs of the given competition and the preparation of the course, not on the source of the snow.
Most ski and snowboarding events at the Beijing Games will take place in Zhangjiakou, about 110 miles northwest of Beijing, including freestyle, cross-country, ski jumping and biathlon. Skating and several additional snow events are being held at the Capital Indoor Stadium in central Beijing.
Bobsled, luge and Alpine skiing events will be held in Yanqing, a mountainous area about 45 miles from downtown Beijing that’s rich in water resources, according to the IOC. Water supplies for the Olympic venues there will come from the nearby Foyukou Reservoir.