Warming world: Beijing 2022 and the future of winter sports

With the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in full swing, there is more of a focus on winter sports than ever. As skiers fly off ramps and snowboarders perform daring tricks, more talk of climate change fills the news, and it leads to the question: How does climate change affect winter Olympic sports?

According to Climate.gov, set up by the U.S. government to present information about climate change to the public, since 1981, the Earth’s temperature has risen by 0.32° F. How does this affect winter weather and, in particular, snow? Another government website, the Environmental Protection Agency’s, discusses this issue as well. The average snowfall in multiple parts of the United States has been decreasing over the years. What this means for winter in some areas is less snow for both competitive and leisurely sports, and there is a possibility that many winter sports will have to be held indoors.

Notably, Beijing 2022 is the first Winter Olympics to feature 100% artificial snow. This has caused a mixture of reactions from the athletes and spectators at the games. CBS Sports interviewed several of the athletes competing this season. Some, like biathlete Johanna Taliharm, heavily dislike the use of artificial snow. “Artificial snow is icier, therefore faster and more dangerous,” she stated.

However, other athletes like snowboarder Matt Cox like competing in this kind of snow: “The Snow is super grippy here… with the cold temps here, it’s dreamy snow.”
A lack of snow isn’t extremely uncommon in Beijing at this time of year. According to Jim Steenburgh, a snow expert and meteorology professor at the University of Utah in an interview with the Washington Post, “I’m not the least bit surprised at the weather they’re having in Beijing. It’s pretty much par for the course in that part of the world.”

With temperatures globally, however, there could be more games that take advantage of artificial snow in order to replace the snow that would typically be present at this time of year. The 2026 Winter Olympic Games, which will be taking place in Italy, will truly show us whether artificial snow will become the new normal for Olympic games in the future.