The mountains that will be the setting for the alpine events of the next Olympic Winter Games in Beijing offer spectacular landscapes and breathtaking slopes, but do not lack one essential ingredient: real snow.
Between January and March this year, the Yanqing National Alpine Ski Center, about 90 kilometers northwest of Beijing, had only 2 cm of snow. London, Paris and Madrid all recorded heavier snowfall, according to data compiled by the worldweatheronline.com website.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) now faces growing questions about the environmental cost of the Games, which open on February 4, including claims that the alpine tracks were built in a protected nature reserve. It has been calculated that Beijing 2022 will need around 49 million gallons of water to create the required artificial snow.
“It could be the most unbearable Winter Olympics ever,” said Professor Carmen de Jong, a geographer at the University of Strasbourg. “These mountains have virtually no natural snow.”
She said artificial snow consumes a lot of water and energy, damages soil health and causes erosion.
IOC officials warned in the bid evaluation report in June 2015 that Yanqing, the site for alpine skiing and slalom, and Zhangjiakou, the site for cross-country skiing, ski jumping and snowboarding, were familiar with scant annual snowfall. “[They] have minimum annual snowfall and for the Games would depend entirely on artificial snow, âthey said.
Stockholm, Oslo and Munich withdrew their offers due to cost or lack of public support.
About 200 snow cannons will create ribbons of artificial snow on the mountainside in Yanqing. A network of pipes and trenches will supply the snowmaker with water from a reservoir.
While real snow forms in clouds from clusters of tiny ice crystals, artificial snow is made of water droplets freezing into ice beads. This usually means a harder trail and is often preferred by professional skiers for being quick and “hyper-grippy”.
This is not the first time that the IOC has chosen an alpine event site with more rock than snow. She chose Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the last Winter Olympics, where the cold but equally arid climate also required large amounts of artificial snow.
Beijing has scarce water resources, but said in its bid there will be adequate supplies from stored runoff and existing reservoirs.
Justin Francis, member of the UK Government’s Council for Sustainable Business and Managing Director of the holiday company Responsible Travel, said: âThis is the global showcase for winter sports and it is amazing to host it in a dependent location. artificial snow. The Olympic Games inspire us for sport, but also to do our part to support the planet. It’s the perfect platform and it’s the wrong message.
Ecological impacts are also a cause for concern. The IOC assessment report said the site would be adjacent to the 4,600-hectare Songshan National Nature Reserve, but in August 2015, the scientific journal Nature reported scientists’ concerns that the ski area was within the park.
The newspaper highlighted an internet article by scientist Wang Xi of the Chinese Academy of Sciences that included a map showing the start and end of alpine trails in the protected reserve.
The message was reportedly clicked 240,000 times and delivered over 1,000 times before it appeared online. A local mayor of Yanqing later said the park boundaries had been redrawn and none of the Olympic tracks were within the extended nature reserve.
Beijing released its sustainability report for the Games last year, pledging to meet the goals set out in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. He said he would use renewable energy for the sites and recycle water resources. “We will prioritize ecological and resource conservation, respect for the environment and contribute to a beautiful environment,” he said.
Richard Butler, Emeritus Professor of Tourism at the University of Strathclyde, said: âThe 2022 Olympics clearly show just how misused and now unnecessary the term sustainable is. It is used for whatever everyone wants and has become meaningless.
“It’s clear that money, power, influence and politics came together to award the games to an area without enough snow.”
Climate change means that ski resorts are increasingly dependent on artificial snow. According to a 2007 study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), global warming could endanger up to two-thirds of all ski areas in the Alps. He warned of the impact on the water supply and local ecology by trying to use snow cannons to stop the retreat of the snow line.
Martin Bell, an alpine skier who has competed in four Olympics, said modern innovations have helped make artificial snow more environmentally friendly. âSnowmaking is now part of the sport and you just have to make sure it’s done with care,â he said. âAs competitors we would always like to run in the Alps with beautiful villages and church bells ringing, but we understand that sport has to spread and become a truly global sport. And going to China will help.
The IOC said: âThe locations for the Winter Games depend on a number of considerations, not just snowfall. A series of water conservation and recycling designs have been put in place to optimize the use of water for snowmaking, human consumption, and other purposes. Yanqing is rich in water resources compared to neighboring regions.
âBeijing 2022’s mission is to be green, open, inclusive and clean. Beijing 2022 will use renewable energy for all competition venues. “
The organizing committee for the 2022 Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games did not respond to a request for comment.