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Climate change: Athletes flag the dangers of manmade snow

Climate change: Athletes flag the dangers of manmade snow

A British skier crashes through wooden fencing on a downhill corner and slams into a pole, breaking his leg. An American hits an icy patch at the bottom of a hill and crashes into a fence, breaking one ski and twisting the other, also breaking his leg.

Another American, training before a biathlon race, slides out on an icy corner and flies off the trail into a tree, breaking ribs and a shoulder blade and punctures a lung.

These were not scenes from high speed Alpine or ski cross events. They happened on cross country ski and biathlon tracks made with artificial snow.

Many top Nordic skiers and biathletes say crashes like these are becoming more common as climate change reduces the availability of natural snow, forcing racers to compete on tracks with the manmade version. Olympic and World Cup race organizers have come to rely on snow-making equipment to create a ribbon of white through the hills since natural snowfall is less reliable.

Johanna Taliharm, an Estonian Olympic biathlete, said racing on manmade snow comes with risks.

“Artificial snow is icier, therefore faster and more dangerous,” she said. “It also hurts more if you fall outside of the course when there is no fluffy snowbank, but a rocky and muddy hard ground.”

Manmade snow has a higher moisture content, making it ice up quickly, skiers and experts say.

“It can be really rock hard out there and falling can feel like falling on concrete, and so it does make it a little bit more dangerous than if it was natural snow conditions,” said Chris Grover, head cross country coach for the U.S. Ski Team.

Some venues even make snow and then store it under wood chips through the summer and spread it around a track when it gets cold. Artificial snow, welcome as it may be, does not get better with age. Race organizers should take that into consideration when designing courses, skiers and experts say.


A British skier crashes through wooden fencing on a downhill corner and slams into a pole, breaking his leg.
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