Winter Olympics options limited by warming planet: research

Research from University of Waterloo says fewer places are going to be cold enough to host events

The official emblem of the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games is seen in downtown Seoul, South Korea, on January 4, 2018. (Lee Jin-man/The Canadian Press via AP)

Climate change could turn out to be the Winter Olympics’ biggest spoil sport.

An updated research study led by geography professor Daniel Scott at the University of Waterloo says the number of places that will be cold enough to host the Winter Olympics is dropping.

The average temperature during the seven Winter Olympics held prior to 1960 was 0.4 C. At the 11 Games held between 1960 and 2000 it was 3.1 C. In the four Games held this century it was 7.8 C.

READ MORE: BCHL alumni named to Canadian men’s Olympic hockey roster

The trend is partly because the International Olympic Committee is picking warmer places to host. Sochi, Russia, which staged the last Games in 2014, is a subtropical resort town where Russians go to escape winter. Vancouver, which hosted in 2010, is second only to nearby Victoria as the warmest place in Canada in winter.

But even so, every one of the 19 cities that hosted the Games prior to this year is warmer in the winter now than it was when they hosted, said Scott.

By midcentury, global warming will mean only 11 of them will still be cold enough to reliably host the Games again. By the end of this century, that number will drop to eight.

In Canada, Calgary and Edmonton are realistically the last ones standing as cold enough options for future Winter Olympics. Calgary is working on a bid for the 2026 Games now.

Quebec City, which considered bidding for 2026, abandoned the idea because it doesn’t have a nearby mountain big enough to host the downhill events. Attempts to partner with places that do like Calgary or Lake Placid, N.Y., quickly failed.

Vancouver already had warm weather woes in 2010 and had to bring in snow from the B.C. interior by helicopter for the snowboarding events. By 2080, Scott’s study says, the average daily temperature there will be 4 C higher.

The good news is Pyeongchang, South Korea, which will host the 23rd Winter Games next month, is on the list of 11 cities still cold enough to host, which should leave athletes competing next month far happier than they were among the slushy ice and bare mountains four years ago in Sochi.

In fact, Pyeongchang organizers were fretting last month it may even be too cold, worrying a predicted temperature of -14 C for opening night will keep people away from the first opening ceremony to be held in an outdoor stadium since Lillehammer in 1994. Organizers are prepared with blankets and hot packs to give the 35,000 spectators and VIPs expected.

But even Pyeongchang, billed as the coldest place on earth at its altitude of 700 metres above sea level, has to rely on man-made elements to pull the Games off, said Scott. The region has experienced a number of drier than normal years in the last decade and a half, and expects to have to make snow to keep some of the alpine and nordic events going.

“They have really good temperatures for both making the snow and maintaining that snow pack so that shouldn’t be a problem at all,” said Scott. “It just may not be the nice aesthetic white fluffy snow.”

Scott said he did the initial research on Winter Games before the Sochi Olympics as a way to engage people in the climate change conversation.

“You have to make it relevant to what people care about,” he said.

Scott said beyond just hosting the Games, a warming planet is also diminishing the number of reliable places for winter athletes to train, especially in the off-season. Canada’s skicross team cancelled plans for summer training in Italy last August after a heat wave closed the glacier area to summer skiing for the first time in 90 years.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

RDN says water in French Creek still potable despite levels of iron, manganese

Strategy to improve water quality being established

COVID-19: City of Parksville to open offices on June 1

Health and safety restrictions will be in place

Program at Parksville’s McMillan Arts Centre offers chance to connect art, environmentalism

MAC program works to create community arts installation in city

Questions remain as summer tourism approaches in Parksville Qualicum Beach

COVID-19: Association hopes residents continue to support local businesses

‘A bottomless well of love for people and communities’

Parksville Qualicum Beach News editor JR Rardon dies at age 61

B.C. legislature coming back June 22 as COVID-19 emergency hits record

Pandemic restrictions now longer than 2017 wildfire emergency

RCMP remind public to leave dogs chilling at home on hot days

Dogsafe has designed a Dog in a Hot Car Responder Checklist

Another Asian giant ‘murder hornet’ found in Lower Mainland

This is the farthest east the invasive species has been found so far

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

B.C. girl left temporarily paralyzed by tick bite sparks warning from family

Mom says parents need to check their kids when they go camping

PHOTOS: Loved ones reunite at an oasis on closed U.S.-Canada border in Surrey

Officials closed the park in mid-March over coronavirus concerns

Feds delay national action plan for missing and murdered Indigenous women

Meanwhile, the pandemic has exacerbated the violence facing many Indigenous women and girls

Nanaimo senior clocked going 50 km/hr over limit says her SUV shouldn’t be impounded

RCMP say they can’t exercise discretion when it comes to excessive speeding tickets

B.C. sees 9 new COVID-19 cases, one death as officials watch for new cases amid Phase Two

Number of confirmed active cases is at 244, with 37 people in hospital

Most Read