Beijing Winter Olympics: What's wrong with artificial snow?

Beijing Winter Olympics: What's wrong with artificial snow?

This year's Olympics, more commonly known as the 2022 Winter Olympics or the XXIV Olympic Winter Games, are held in Beijing, China. Like all Olympics events, Olympic Games 2022 was also magnificent and one of its kind. 

But you know what made it even more special? Snow! Yes, you read it right. The highlight of this event was artificial snow throughout the event. It is because Beijing usually has very little snowfall, so the government went a step ahead this time and introduced 100 percent artificial snow. Interesting right? Learn more about this later in this article.

How Was This Snow Produced?

Leo Ramirez—AFP/Getty Images

Winter's Olympics without snow? Sounds crazy, right? Precisely this is why China had to go beyond limits to create artificial snow as Beijing receives less than 6 inches of natural snowfall per year. It is because of a monsoon cycle that pushes cold, dry air towards the South.

The concept was to apply the use of snow guns as significant components. These cannon-looking guns use compressed air and break down water into droplets. Then these droplets are frozen and transported through 40 miles of pipes to snowcats. Snowcats look like tractors that store the snow and serve in smoothing out the snow. A total of 170 fan-powered snow guns and 30 fanless stick lances are being used for this purpose.

How Much Did This Venture Cost China?

The equipment for the artificial snow was imported from an Italian Company called TechnoAlpin and cost more than $60 million. The total cost to host the Olympics ceremony and matches was around $8.8bn; the fake snow venture utilized a significant portion.

It was indeed a big step for the government as billions of dollars were invested in this project. The budget was exceeded massively as the concept was to keep the games economical. But not to forget that the Chinese government plans to utilize the equipment further to make full use of it. 

What Environmental Challenges China Had To Face During This Venture?

Doug Mills/The New York Times

The budget was one of the major concerns. However, that's not all. The environment suffered a lot too. Maintaining the winter wonderland illusion was not an easy task. The environmental hazards this fake snow comes with cannot be ignored. Many climatic changes are anticipated with the use of artificial snow.

Using fossil fuels as an electricity source to power the snow machines releases greenhouse gases into the air. As a result, the planet's temperature will continue to increase. In turn, the demands and needs for artificial snow will never drop down but go up instead.

The Energy and Water Expenditures

Although China says that all the energy used for powering the snow machines at the Winter Olympics was renewable, that energy still costs a lot. Consider a typical ski resort and the energy it consumes overall. The snow machines alone use half of the same energy used to power a whole ski resort.

China used at least 79 million gallons of water to produce this fake snow. It’s almost 74 Olympic-sized swimming pools full of water. It was a massive amount of water for a place that frequently experienced droughts. People were clearly not very happy about it. A minimum of 890,000 cubic meters of water will be used throughout the games.

What Problems Will The Excessive Use Of Water Lead To?

Some political groups are very disappointed by this unnecessary use of water and claim that it will lead to no good. The area is constantly on a journey to become arider with every passing day. As China is already the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, unchecked activities may cause an increase of 2.4% in Beijing's average temperature.

What Is China's Policy In This Regard?

The officials don't appear to think the same as the opposition and have thought about it long-term. They claim that the water used for producing artificial snow is chemical-free and can be later used for irrigation purposes. Similarly, the equipment will also be used in different events.

The snowflakes, or you can say that the water needs to freeze before it reaches the ground, so you have to be very quick. On the other hand, natural snow takes about an hour to grow and create its unique symmetry. The flash process is quite handy and, thus, needs to be tackled carefully.