Winter sports are facing a widespread difficulty this year – there’s not enough winter weather.
The Alpine World Cup began in Beaver Creek, Colorado last December, a ski resort at almost a mile and a half elevation in the Rocky Mountains. Ordinarily in December, Beaver Creek has between four and eight feet of snow. This year, the ski slopes shone white against the brown slopes – the only snow to be found was manufactured.
“The glaciers are receding. The winter is starting later and ending sooner,” said John Kucera, the 2009 world champion in downhill who now is a coach for Canada’s Alpine team. “For a sport like ours, we might pay for it sooner than some others. We are dependent on the climate and the weather and that dictates what we’re able to do.”
The science supports Kucera’s claim – the last eight years have been the eight hottest on record for Earth according to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Artificial snow is inferior for winter sports, too. It’s harder, packs into slicker tracks, and ski resorts which use it have recorded an increase in injury-causing crashes.
The 2022 Winter Olympics in China, which begin on Friday, will exclusively use manufactured snow. The Yanquing district of Beijing, where all of the outdoor events are being held, have seen less than an inch of snow this year.
According to a recent study, only one of the last 21 Winter Olympic sites – Sapporo in the northern reaches of Japan – could reliably field winter sports on natural snow after 2050, and only four could today.
The Olympics, particularly the Winter Olympics, have a massive carbon footprint, contributing to the problem. From manufacturing snow to every Olympic featuring an entire town’s worth of new construction, to hundreds or even thousands of bespoke flights, it all contributes to the problem. If international winter sports competition is to have a future, things will have to change.