Beijing Becomes First To Entirely Use Artificial Snow For Winter Olympics 2022

The creation of artificial snow comes at a heavy environmental cost. It also poses a risk for athletes.

A skier trains on the half-pipe ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Zhangjiakou, China.

The Winter Olympics in Beijing, which is scheduled to start on Februrary 4, will be all about a fake snow land. Owing to climate change, the international game will be mostly conducted on artificial snow. 

A report co-authored by the Georgia State University, shorter winter months, less snowfall and melting snow has compelled the authorities to arrange for fake snow for the Winter Olympics. 

The authorities are now busy arranging for piles of artificial snow and spraying the same on the mountains of Zhangjiakou, the venue for the Games. According to various reports, scientists have figured out a way to create artificial particles to give the illusion of a wintery climate.

The snow is injected with water to harden it and later treated with chemicals to keep it intact. With natural snow melting away and increasing global warming, artificial snow is recommended for winter competitions.

Why is China busy creating artificial snow for Winter Olympics 2022?

According to scientists, not all hosts cities receive equal snowfall, hence there’s is a need for artificial snow to conduct the games. For instance, the region, which is 160 km northwest of Zhangjiakou, gets relatively little snowfall. This region will host snowboarding, cross-country skiing and ski jumping. 

According to international media, the Games get underway with downhill skiing and slalom taking place in Yanqing, a dramatic mountainous district about 80 Km from the Chinese capital.  


Machines spraying artificial snow in China. (Credit: AP)

How is China creating artificial snow?

To create slopes of artificial snow that are competition ready, high volumes of water and energy are required. 

Reports suggest that an estimated 49 million gallons of water -- an amount that would fill 74 Olympic-sized pools -- have been required for producing the fake snow. Further, it requires 130 fan-operated snow generators and 300 snow-making guns to create the 1.2 million cubic meters of phoney snowflakes. 
However, it has been highlighted as a risk by the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) evaluation during the bidding process.  

For the Beijing winter Olympics, China has borrowed a machine from Italy that has been pumping snow since November 2021. The machine sprays ice particles and a thin mist of water vapour, 60 metres from above the ground, where these particles combine to become snow and then fall. According to reports, the Italian company has been using around 290 snow pumping machines for the winter games. 

Hazards along with artificial snow 

The creation of artificial snow comes at a heavy environmental cost. Although artificial snow can also prove to be good as natural snow, the process of producing the same puts pressure on the environment. The immense wastage of water along with the large scale energy is expensive and unsustainable. Scientists believe that it only aggravates the damage caused by global warming.

However, Beijing has quashed reports of creating pressure on the water supply, citing their network of reservoirs. It further stated that the winter games are in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 

Beijing creates artificial snow ahead of Winter Olympics 2022. (Credit: AP)

In addition to it, artificial snow also poses a risk for athletes, who are worried about the dangers of man-made snow. The snow is icier, hence more slippery increasing the risk of more injuries as compared to fluffy natural snow. 

With a higher moisture content, athletes believe that going downhill on artificial snow is also an issue, as the knockoff flakes make racing down much faster and can induce more harmful accidents.

Previous Olympic games that used artificial snow 

Artificial snow was used for the first time when the winter games were held at New York’s Lake Placid in 1980. Later it was used in Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014. 
The 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea in Pyeongchang almost entirely relied on fake snow. 

However, Beijing will be the first host to use completely man-made snow.