The Beijing Games, kicking off on February 4, will be the first Winter Olympics to use virtually 100% artificial snow by deploying more than 100 snow generators and 300 snow-making guns working flat out to cover the ski slopes.
“This is not only energy and water intensive, frequently using chemicals to slow melt, but also delivers a surface that many competitors say is unpredictable and potentially dangerous,” researchers from the Sport Ecology Group at Loughborough University in England and the Protect Our Winters environment group said.
Lying in naturally arid climates, the two co-host cities, Beijing and Zhangjiakou, could use an estimated 49 million gallons of chemically-treated water frozen through snow machines, according to the research.
Though China repeatedly claims to be using only natural rainfall and recycled water in snowmaking, there have been concerns that the high water utilization rate would put additional pressure on the region’s already scarce resources.
Natural snow is becoming less plentiful in some regions and water availability for snowmaking is falling as a result of climate change, putting the global snow sport industry at risk.
“Navigating erratic snow seasons and rapid melt of low level resorts are now the norm for many competitors,” the research said.
“The risk is clear: man-made warming is threatening the long-term future of winter sports. It is also reducing the number of climatically suitable host venues for the Winter Olympiad,” it said.
Of the 21 venues used for the Winter Games since Chamonix 1924, researchers estimate that by 2050 only 10 will have the “climate suitability” and natural snowfall levels to host an event.
Chamonix is now rated ‘high risk’ along with venues in Norway, France and Austria, while Vancouver, Sochi and Squaw Valley in the United States are deemed “unreliable.”