But it comes at a cost: human-made snow is incredibly resource-intensive, requiring massive amounts of energy and water to produce in a climate that’s getting warmer and warmer. Elite athletes also say that the sports themselves become trickier and less safe when human-made snow is involved.
No snow? Fake it
Enter the snow machines.
“We are very proud to say that we are the only company providing the snow-making systems for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics,” Michael Mayr, TechnoAlpin Asia area manager, told CNN.
Mayr said it is the first time a single company has been tasked with providing all the snow for the Winter Games.
But there’s a critical component to making snow that some of the Beijing sites also lack: temperatures cold enough to freeze water.
Yanqing and Zhangjiakou, which are higher elevation venues, are cooler, with average high temperatures that peak above freezing and lows that fall to around -10 degrees Celsius at night.
“There have been recent technological advances that allow for the generation of snow when it is above freezing,” explained Jordy Hendrikx, the director of the Snow and Avalanche Laboratory at Montana State University. “This is not your ‘light fluffy’ snow that you might think of — it is much denser and not very soft.”
Ice makers ‘on steroids’
Traditionally, snow-making has relied heavily on snow guns and temperatures at or below freezing. To accommodate warmer temperatures and lower elevations, a different approach needs to be taken.
“Think of it like a very sophisticated version of the ice maker in your refrigerator,” said Hendrikx. “But then on steroids.”
Making snow demands significant resources, namely energy and water.
“Obviously we need more energy the warmer it gets,” Mayr said.
And with 1.2 million cubic meters of snow needed to cover roughly 800,000 square meters of competition area, according to the Slippery Slopes report, the water demand at this year’s Winter Olympics is massive.
‘This is dangerous’
Athletes have also expressed concern about the hazards of competing at high levels on artificial snow.
French cross-country skier Clement Parisse, the bronze medal winner at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, told CNN that while it’s not uncommon to have to compete on human-made snow, it tends to become very slick and icy, which presents added challenges.
And Laura Donaldson, a freestyle skier from Scotland who competed in Salt Lake City in 2002, was extremely critical of artificial snow.
“If freestyle super pipes are formed from snow-making machines in a poor season, the walls of the pipe are solid, vertical ice and the pipe floor is solid ice,” Donaldson told researchers for the Slippery Slopes report. “This is dangerous for athletes, some have died.”
The IOC does not face these challenges alone. Artificial snow is being used as a tool to extend ski seasons in competitions and at resorts across the globe, many of which temperatures are threatened by the warming of the climate crisis.
These challenges will continue to drive the snow sports industry toward artificial snow when Mother Nature doesn’t produce it.
But the question remains — just because we can, does that mean we should?
CNN’s Coy Wire contributed to this report.