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Thanks To Climate Change, It’s Going To Be Really Hard To Have A Winter Olympics

Farewell, Sochi, Vancouver, and Squaw valley: As climate change continues to warm up the planet, the world’s options for future Winter Olympics sites will get much narrower.

Thanks To Climate Change, It’s Going To Be Really Hard To Have A Winter Olympics
[Image: Ski race via VOJTa Herout / Shutterstock]

If Sochi’s corruption, attacks on gay rights, and general air of neo-Soviet menace leave you feeling queasy, console yourself with this: It’s not likely the Olympics will ever return to a place like Putin’s winter paradise. Climate change will see to that.

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In 2014, it’s already a questionable decision to host a snow-and-ice event in a subtropical resort. But by 2050 it probably won’t even be an option. If the Olympics are held at all, they’ll have to go higher up the mountain where the skiing’s less endangered.


According to a report from the University of Waterloo and the Management Center Innsbruck in Austria, the average February daytime temperature at Winter Games locations has increased from 0.4°C in the 1920-50s, to 3.1°C in the 1960-90s, to 7.8°C in the 21st century.

Over time, organizers have turned to various “weather risk management strategies,” including producing fake snow and moving some sports inside. But by the end the middle of this century, that may no longer be feasible. The report says the venues will be 1.9°C to 2.1°C warmer by the 2050s (depending on the greenhouse emissions scenario) and 2.7°C to 4.4°C by the 2080s.

Here what the report says for the lower emissions case:

In the late-21 century, only a half of former Olympic Winter Games hosts would have reliable conditions in a low emissions scenario. Internationally renowned Olympic sites, such as Squaw Valley (U.S.A.) Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Germany), as well as recent host cities of Vancouver (Canada) and Sochi (Russia), simply would not be cold enough to reliably host the Games.

And for the less optimistic scenario:

The greater warming associated with a high emissions pathway left less than one-third (6 in total) of former Olympic Winter Games locations climatically suitable for the games.

While places like Vancouver and Squaw Valley are iconic, they’re just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Groups like Protect Our Winters have pointed to the growing threat of climate change across the wider skiing industry. A report last year said warming temperatures could decimate the number of viable resorts by 2039.

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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