Winter Sports — At What Cost?

By Hannah Quinque

Not exact­ly an idyl­lic view: The future of win­ter sports lies in pro­duc­ing arti­fi­cial snow.
Pho­to cred­it: “Ski jump­ing in Ober­st­dorf, Ger­many” by Arne Müse­le

“Hav­ing the World Cup back on U.S. soil is very impor­tant in devel­op­ing the sport of Ski Jump­ing in this coun­try and across the world,” enthus­es one ski jump­ing train­er about the return of the Men’s Ski Jump­ing World Cup to his­tor­i­cal site Lake Placid, NY, after over three decades. As heart-warm­ing as this news may be for North Amer­i­can win­ter sports afi­ciona­dos, it’s hard to feel as opti­mistic about ‘devel­op­ing’ the future of snow sports when cli­mate change is already heav­i­ly impact­ing events even today.

It’s Feb­ru­ary 2023. The Nordic World Ski Cham­pi­onships in Plan­i­ca, Slove­nia, are in full swing. It’s 2.5°C warmer than on aver­age at this time of year, and the TV reporter says it feels like spring up there in the Alps. But there’s plen­ty of snow pre­pared and stored to be used in the com­pe­ti­tions. “Good,” I think. I’ve been look­ing for­ward to the ski jump­ing events for weeks, and I know that many ath­letes have been work­ing towards this par­tic­u­lar cham­pi­onship for years.

With­in five min­utes, I’ve gone from being gen­uine­ly ter­ri­fied by the ongo­ing cli­mate cri­sis to feel­ing hap­pi­ly excit­ed at the prospect of watch­ing win­ter sports with a fake win­ter won­der­land back­drop. This cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance has become the usu­al state of mind for many of my deci­sions and activ­i­ties. From dis­pos­able cof­fee cups to debat­able car rides to vast dig­i­tal stream­ing libraries, there’s always the option to avoid anoth­er drain on resources.

It’s a cham­pagne prob­lem exem­pli­fy­ing the daunt­ing uni­ver­sal truth: There won’t be any World Cups held on a wrecked plan­et. The logis­tics efforts to host such an event are enor­mous: from erect­ing struc­tures that change the face of entire moun­tain­sides to the amounts of ener­gy need­ed for the prepa­ra­tion and main­te­nance of win­ter sports loca­tions where nat­ur­al and arti­fi­cial ice and snow have to be con­tin­u­ous­ly cooled down in tem­per­a­tures far above the freez­ing point. How long can we con­tin­ue to con­tribute to glob­al warm­ing with­out com­ing up with long-term sus­tain­able alternatives?

Alter­na­tive mate­ri­als and changed sched­ules and loca­tions aren’t actu­al solu­tions. Win­ter sports orga­ni­za­tions and audi­ences must use their plat­forms and resources to pro­mote cli­mate change aware­ness and push for sys­temic change. If the lat­est news on cli­mate change action on the FIS (Fédéra­tion Inter­na­tionale de Ski) web­site address­es ath­letes’ con­cerns that the gov­ern­ing body for inter­na­tion­al ski­ing and snow­board­ing isn’t doing near­ly enough to counter glob­al warm­ing, then cel­e­brat­ing addi­tion­al venues for future events feels naive at best.

It’s emblem­at­ic that on the FIS web­site you’ll find a Bring Chil­dren to the Snow sec­tion but noth­ing on cli­mate pro­tec­tion. Affect­ed eupho­ria and euphemism won’t change the obvi­ous fact, though: Can’t bring the chil­dren to the snow with­out bring­ing the snow to the children.

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