Despite having heavy natural snow, Beijing is using artificial snow in Olympics; Here’s the difference between both

Despite having heavy natural snow in the premises of the Beijing Olympics, the Olympics venues are being filled with artificial snow. Most of the athletes are competing for their events in the artificially created pits. The officials say that using artificial snow during the Winter Olympics helped to maintain the quality pit at every moment of the events.

During the 1980s, there was a need to fill the venues with artificial snow as there was no heavy snow in Beijing to conduct the Olympics. At that time, the volume of snow used to cover up the lack of natural snow reached a peak that, the venues covered with more than 90% man-made snow. When man-made snow is taken to fill the venues during the games, 49m gallons of water have been used to produce millions of cubic meters of snow.

Natural v/s Artificial Snow

Natural snow has a lot more air-filled pockets and is made up of less water content than machine-made. This makes it more of soft and fluffy snow. Natural snow begins to crystallize in the cold clouds, forming beautiful six-sided symmetrical snowflakes that grow when they fall to the ground. 

The machine-made snow is more dense and icy with ball bearings. Compared to natural snow, artificial snow is dense and thick. Artificial snow was first used at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, but it has been growing in prevalence in the most recent Games. About 80% of the snow used in Sochi, Russia in 2014 was artificial, and that number went as high as 98% for the Pyeongchang Games in South Korea in 2018.

It is hard to maintain the thickness of the snow needed to perform the events in Beijing, therefore because of the inability to follow the correct mass and volume of the natural snow, often artificial snow is used instead. When artificial snow is used, it will be easier to maintain a consistent quality throughout competitions, providing as similar conditions as possible for all participants. 

The main help will rely on the slops when participants do skiing, said International Olympic Committee. The controllable and adaptable nature of man-made snow makes it even better than the natural version of developing ski courses for elite racing, they further added. The IOC says no chemical additives were added to the snow-making process for the National Alpine Skiing Centre.

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Critics on the other hand say, hosting an athletic competition based on snow and ice, in a city with below-average freezing temperatures and chronic water shortages, is not so good. One of the British Skier said the artificial snow which has been built to conduct the events is dangerous for athletes. 

However, new research from the University of Waterloo in Canada, shows that the list of cities that could sustainably hold the Winter Olympics is shrinking. If global greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, only one of the 21 previous locales for the Winter Games would have the requisite temperature and precipitation to stage the games by 2080.