Ski riders preparing to enter the starting gates for the Alpine World Cup events in the Rocky Mountains in early December peek into the 50-degree sun and glance down at the pristine snow-covered field – and produced -.
If they look up and along the way, beyond the finish line, they will see the adjacent hills brown and barren, with a bit of powder or any indication that this is a backdrop for athletes. will head to the Beijing Olympics starting on February 4.
It is a disturbing fact and – due to their own reliance on snow production, diesel-fueled transcontinental flights and other unfriendly origins in their careers – hard to reconcile the pressure and pull for many who will compete in Alpine skiing or freestyle skiing or snowboarding or Nordic fusion events or other outdoor sports helped make “Winter” disappear during the Winter Olympics.
“Climate change is here. It’s happening. We’re living in it right now. It’s not something that’s going to happen in the distant future. It’s here,” said Travis Ganong, a 33-year-old from California to China said the US ski team. “And you see that with the California fires, the floods in Europe, the higher amounts of snow, the shorter winters, the longer summers, the droughts. It runs the whole gamut. Everywhere in the world there’s it. some impact from it, and there’s really no turning back.
“Selfishly, I hope winter will be here in the future,” he said. “But it doesn’t look pretty.”
Global warming is changing and endangering him and other sports, perhaps permanently, and not just at the elite level. It affects people who just want to ski or skateboard for fun and who make a living from places that offer such activities.
And, of course, everyone on the planet, because this affects more sports, of course.
Just one example: In December, Colorado set a record since the 1880s for most consecutive days without snow. After warm temperatures and just an inch of snow on December 30, wind-powered wildfires destroyed hundreds of homes in the state.
According to two US science agencies, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the past eight years rank as the eight hottest years on record on Earth.
“The glaciers are receding. Winter starts later and ends earlier,” said John Kucera, the 2009 world champion in downhill who is now a coach for Canada’s Alpine team. “For a sport like ours, we can pay for it earlier than some other sports. We depend on the climate and the weather and that determines what we can do. ”
The fallout is spreading.
It’s harder to find glaciers suitable for training, so athletes need to look for new locations – or even go indoors. Organizing World Cup events will be more difficult because too much wind or too much snow or too little snow leads to postponement or cancellation.
It is difficult to find real snow anywhere, so competition is increasing for machine-generated snow, which has harmful effects on the environment. Although the high speeds, steep inclines and sharp angles that make danger are often present in Alpine skiing, no matter what type of item is placed underfoot, injury accidents are increasingly common in Nordic skiing and triathlon because man-made snow is harder, slippery tracks.
“We have certainly noticed snow shortages everywhere. Places that in December, November, were once ‘winter wonderlands’, we are seeing less and less snow. And for a number of years, they won’t get any snow,” said Taylor Fletcher, who grew up in Colorado, is based in Utah and is his fourth Olympic team in Northern Europe combined.
Many Winter Olympic athletes share similar observations.
“I’m not a meteorologist,” Italy’s Marta Bassino, who won last season’s massive slalom discipline, said with a chuckle, “but I see it with my eyes.”
Alexis Pinturault, a three-time Olympic medalist for France, recalls skiing at Tignes in his country’s Alps 20 years ago, but notes that it was “nearly impossible to ski there anymore”. U.S. figure skater Winter Vinecki recalls an event in Belarus where instead of the setting appropriate for the season, she competed in puddles. “The absolute ideal scenario would be to have a half-pipe made entirely of snow,” explains Taylor Gold, an American skier with Protect Our Winters, an athlete-led environmental group. natural, but that can never happen again.”
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A recent study published in the journal “Current Issues in Tourism” predicted that without significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions globally, only one in 21 The previous Winter Olympics will be able to reliably provide fair and safe conditions by the end of the century.
Researchers from Austria, Canada and the US determined that even with emissions at the lower end of the scale, only three of the 12 European cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics would be a worthwhile venue. confidence in the 2050s.
“Part of what we do with newspapers like this is to get the message across that we have great influence … a professor at the University of Waterloo, co-author of the study,” said Daniel Scott. , “Climate Change and the Future of the Olympic Winter Games: Athletes and Coach Perspectives”.
“People will have to hold their elected officials accountable,” says Scott, “because I commit to losing weight every New Year’s Eve — and that doesn’t always work out.”
The International Olympic Committee has said it will force future host countries to be climate-aggressive. The Beijing Olympics are supposed to be climate-neutral; All venues are expected to be powered by renewable energy, and the four skating rinks will use natural CO2 technology for cooling, replacing hydrofluorocarbons that are more damaging to the ozone layer.
Wyoming rancher Tom Johnston is overseeing the shaping of manufactured snow into Alpine layers in the mountains of Beijing, where it can be cold but lacks real flakes. He had his own concerns about both of his goals: preparing for the slopes and, back home, producing alfalfa.
He faces warmer and later winters than before in Colorado and Vermont making hosting World Cup races a challenge – and given the drought affecting his farm.
“There will be questions, who wonder if future Olympics dates need to be changed,” said Johnston.
There are efforts being made. Some on a personal level. Some on a larger scale.
The National Association of Ski Areas – a trade group representing more than 300 Alpine resorts in the US – started the “Climate Challenge” a decade ago to motivate its more than 300 members. monitor and reduce their carbon footprint. During the 2020-21 season, 31 ski resorts participated.
The World Cup-scheduled air travel weighs heavily on Mikaela Shiffrin, the two-time Olympic champion, especially when she thinks about the journeys that have taken female riders from Finland to Vermont to Canada to Switzerland for three weeks in November and December.
“I’m worried about my sport’s future, but really much more than that, just worried about our future and how much time it will take before it all really catches up with us,” said Shiffrin, who from Colorado, said. “Sometimes I seriously consider giving up races for the reason that it’s one less plane ride. That would be a small contribution to a big problem. ”
Shiffrin and American skier Maddie Mastro, among others, say they’ve cut back on eating meat, because that industry is bad for the planet. Vinecki grows his own fruits, vegetables, and herbs in his home aeroponic garden. Ganong rides a bike instead of a car, when possible his American teammates Ryan Cochran-Siegle and Austrian Vincent Kriechmayr won two gold medals at the 2021 Alpine world championships. Keely Cashman, a first-time US Olympic skier in Alpine, limits the amount of new racing gear she gets.
Some seem to be too late.
“The fact that that ship has set sail is, unfortunately, in my opinion. We did not make the necessary changes. We missed the opportunity,” said Bode Miller, who won a record six US Alpine Olympic medals from 2002-14. “So we have to face what is, and that is the changing climate. And over the course of my life, and certainly my children, we’re going to see some really dramatic things go down. “
Miller is the investor and face of Alpine-X, a group working to build indoor venues for snow sports across the United States.
Some ski racers use indoor spots in Europe to train in technical events. Could the World Cup events really be next? Don’t forget: Figure skating and ice hockey were once competed outdoors at the Olympics, so it’s probably not entirely far-fetched to envision other sports moving inside.
Another alternative: Find a new race location or head to higher points in the mountains, where the temperatures are cooler and real snow is possible.
“There’s nothing wrong with indoor skiing in New Jersey, but it’s not quite the same as being at the top of a mountain in the Deer Valley (in Utah) or staying atop a mountain in Austria,” said Ted Ligety, an American says won Alpine Olympic gold medals in 2006 and 2014. “Nothing can replace the beauty of the outdoors, the fresh air.”
AP Sports writer Andrew Dampf in Modena, Italy, and Associated Press video journalist Brittany Peterson in Copper Mountain, Colorado, contributed.
https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/sports/beijing-winter-olympics/athletes-worry-as-winter-disappears-from-winter-olympics/3127200/ Athletes Worried As ‘Winter’ Disappears From Winter Olympics – NBC10 Philadelphia