Whether or not you're a believer in climate change, there's no denying that American athletes preparing to compete in next month’s Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, have been forced to travel the world looking for suitable training sites. Aerials skiing members of Team USA relocated 5,000 miles from the Rocky Mountains to Saas-Fee, Switzerland, in order to practice. Ski jumpers, meanwhile, trained in Utah by landing in a swimming pool rather than on snow.
“Without the snow and the cold in the places in the States where it’s normally cold, we have to travel over here and find a place on a glacier to get a couple of jumps off,” aerials skiing world champion Jon Lillis told the Associated Press in December. “Something that terrifies every winter athlete daily is the fact that the conditions are not as good as they used to be. You see videos of people skiing on glaciers back in the ’80s and ’70s, and half of that glacier doesn’t exist anymore.”
GlacierHub.org, which provides information about current scientific research regarding glaciers and climate change, has broken down the situation and what it means to the future of the Winter Games.
“Climate change will thus limit which countries may be capable of hosting Winter Games in the future,” according to the site. “Historically, [the International Olympic Committee] selected bids based on the quality of available ski resorts. However, many popular ski resorts are located at vulnerable glaciers. With glaciers retreating significantly in recent years, it is difficult to perceive what will be the fate of these resorts and much of the ski industry even in just a few years.
“Of these vulnerable countries, the United States may be one of those that may struggle to find a location to put up for a bid. Warm conditions across the country have resulted in poor skiing seasons over the past few years. Conditions [are] so poor that American athletes have been forced to travel abroad to find suitable training grounds.”
The site also points out that “since 2014, the IOC has made sustainability a central priority in the bidding process.” To that end, the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games recently released a 152-page report titled “Furthering Benefits to People and Nature,” which outlines the economic, environmental and social responsibilities taken in that country’s hosting efforts.
But, GlacierHub.org adds, “little mention can be found about the how [IOC and other] officials see the Winter Games changing in the future. With glaciers providing reliable summer training grounds in the past, glacier retreat is at the forefront of concerns for these athletes and officials.”