Sports100% artificial snow in Beijing, environmentalists denounce "an aberration"

100% artificial snow in Beijing, environmentalists denounce “an aberration”

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Winter Olympics in one of the driest regions of China: faced with the lack of snow, the Beijing Games (February 4 to 20) will depend entirely on artificial powder. The mountains to the northwest of the Chinese capital, where the events will take place, remain in their natural state desperately brown and the artificial ski slopes in preparation strip them with vast white lines, giving them a striped appearance.

A little over a month before the opening of the Games, bright yellow cannons are constantly blowing their flakes to prepare the ground for skiers in Yanqing resort. Cost for water resources: some 185 million liters for all Olympic venues, according to an official estimate released in 2019.

90% fake snow in Pyeongchang

Such consumption in an area structurally affected by droughts is a source of criticism. “Organizing the Olympics in this region is an aberration, it is irresponsible”, denounces the geographer Carmen de Jong, of the University of Strasbourg. “We could also do the Olympics on the Moon or on Mars,” she quips. Organizers argue that the cannons are powered by renewable electricity and that water will return to the ground after melting.

The Beijing Olympics will be the first Winter Games to rely entirely on artificial snowmaking – even though the previous 2018 edition in South Korea had already had to resort to about 90% of fake powder. In total, the facilities planned in Yanqing and the other Olympic site in Zhangjiakou employ 300 snow cannons, from the Italian brand TechnoAlpin, before snow groomers give shape to the slopes.

“For us, the biggest challenge is to keep the quality of snow uniform,” said Li Xin, an official at Yanqing station, about 80 km from the capital. Variations in the snow production process “can make it too hard on some sections and too soft on others, which could be dangerous for competing athletes,” he notes.

With global warming, “regardless of the location of the Olympic Games, there will always be snow cannons,” predicts Florian Hajzeri, General Manager of TechnoAlpin for China.

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