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Faux snow: Man-made snow to be used in Beijing and beyond

February 25, 2018

FILE- In this Feb. 12, 2018 file photo, course crew are shrouded in snow as they slip slide to the finish after the women's giant slalom was postponed due to high winds at the 2018 Winter Olympics at the Yongpyong Alpine Center, Pyeongchang, South Korea. The forecast for the next Winter Olympics: Cold with a 100 percent chance of fake snow. The freezing temperatures and windblown ski slopes that served up a lasting story line in Pyeongchang did not alter the fact that between 90 and 98 percent of the snow used for skiing and snowboarding was man-made. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — The forecast for the next Winter Olympics: cold with a 100 percent chance of fake snow.

In other words, a lot like the Olympics which wrap up Sunday in South Korea.

Though freezing temperatures and windy conditions punctuated the action in Pyeongchang, between 90 and 98 percent of the snow at the ski and snowboard venues was man-made at these games.

Climate data compiled since 1979 about winters in Beijing, where the games will take place four years from now, indicate the snow will be entirely man-made there.

Intertrust Technologies analyzed weather in Beijing and found there wasn’t a single winter that produced “sufficient snow” — more than 13 feet — to set down the Alpine and snowboarding runs that will be used at the Olympics. On the other hand, the overall mean temperature of 12 degrees (minus-11 Celsius) in January and 20 degrees (minus-6 Celsius) in February makes it likely there will be ideal snowmaking conditions for the games.

This has been an ongoing theme for the Olympics, and winter sports in general, as the effects of climate change directly impact the games and the athletes who play them.

“The Olympics are just another piece of the whole reflection of what’s going on with winter,” said Seth Wescott, the two-time Olympic snowboardcross champion, who works with an athletes’ group, Protect Our Winters . “These are not places that are known for snow. All the years I went over and raced in South Korea, we were dealing with exactly what the athletes have been dealing with this (month).”

Intertrust drew similar conclusions about the cities that could host Olympics in 2026 and beyond.

Of the potential 2026 candidates, Calgary and Sapporo, Japan had the most consistent strings of temperatures of 26 degrees (minus-3 Celsius) or less, which is considered ideal to maintain man-made snow. Calgary was also the leader as the city with the most real snow and best conditions to maintain it.

Only 13 of the last 39 Januarys in Utah, which appears to be a contender for the 2030 Games, have had optimal conditions for natural snow.

A bigger question is whether that matters all that much. Course builders and the athletes themselves prefer man-made snow because it can be created at consistencies they need for halfpipes, slopestyle runs and Alpine courses they build in a given area. The Pyeongchang Organizing Committee spent $6 million to place snow cannons across the venues.

In awarding the 2022 Games to Beijing, the IOC acknowledged that organizers would be hard-pressed to find natural snow and that there would be no opportunity to haul snow from higher elevations, the way they did in Vancouver for the 2010 Games. Beijing won the bid over Almaty, Kazakhstan, which used the slogan “Keeping It Real” — in a nod to its snowy climate.

In Pyeongchang, cold weather was welcome after two straight Winter Games, in Sochi and Vancouver, that didn’t feel much like winter. Still, strong winds wreaked havoc with the Alpine schedule and also played a role in some shuffling at the Phoenix Snow Park, where the action sports took place.

Chris Klug, the 2002 snowboarding bronze medalist, said over the years, he has noticed things other than warm winter temperatures that have indicated climate change.

“I’ve seen ‘global weirding’ like that in my lifetime,” Klug said.

It plays into the fact that nine cities that hosted previous Winter Olympics would be considered “higher risk” or “not reliable” to host the games come the middle of this century.

“It’s marginal snow conditions, all man-made, bizarre fluctuations and wind,” Wescott said. “It’s part of what we’re facing on an ever-warming globe.”

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More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org

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