Beijing, China was an Olympic host that will go down in history. The city doesn’t see much snow, which is obviously a crucial factor of the Winter Olympics. In this unlikely location, the Olympic torch was able to be set aflame in 2022 because of fake snow. With this technology, artificial precipitation is the savior of modern world competitions…or is it? Some take issue with the unnatural snow, from viewers concerned with its environmental impact, to the athletes concerned with its effect on their performances.
This isn’t the first time fake snow has covered an Olympic stage. 80% of the snow at the 2014 Games in Russia was man-made, and 90% in South Korea, was fake. This is the first time the slopes are 100% covered in artificial snow. Italian brand TechnoAlpin provided fan powered snow guns and lances to coat the 2022 Winter Olympic venues. This is snow that is injected with water to harden it and treated with chemicals to keep it in place. Michael Mayr, the Area Manager of Asia TechnoAlpin explained to Time Magazine that there are certain advantages to fake snow. The machines can generate different types of snow depending on what the event calls for. “For the alpine venues, we need very icy snow…On the freestyle venues, we need a little bit softer snow.” According to the Sunday Times, TechnoAlpin used 290 snow cannons in Beijing, translating to a whopping estimated number of 49 million gallons of water going into the production snow for the games. That amount is warranted and very much necessary to hold the games here though- a typical year Beijing sees less than six inches of regular snowfall due to a monsoon cycle that pushes cold, dry air into the south. Beijing already suffers from recurring droughts and a declining supply of drinkable water due to global warming- fake snow might be a solution, but is it a sustainable one?
Olympians are speaking out for and against the controversial subject of the artificial element. Players have a high risk of falling and injuring themselves on the fake snow, because the slopes are hard and fast. Some, talking out both sides of their mouths. “It actually helps you build levels of technique. If you have technique, you’ll be able to drive down the slopes with speed while being stable,” said Mohamed Arif Khan to The Indian Express. He then adds, “It’s kind of a challenge because you’re skiing more on ice than snow. It’s faster and challenging in terms of balance.” Others, such as Estonian biathlete Johanna Taliharm are flat out against competing on it. “Artificial snow is icier, therefore faster and more dangerous,” Taliharm said. “It also hurts more if you fall outside of the course when there is no fluffy snowbank, but a rocky and muddy hard ground.”
Only 10 of the 21 venues used for the Winter Games since 1924 will have the “climate suitability” and snowfall levels necessary to host by 2050, so it is likely fake snow is the new normal for the foreseeable future. The survival of the Winter Olympics is based on it. Obviously I’m not one of the Olympians trying to jump, glide, or speed down one of these modified slopes, but I can say that looking in on this situation from the outside, I’m worried about the effect it will have on these athletes and our environment long term.