By 2050, nearly half of the cities that have ever hosted the Winter Olympics might not be cold enough to host again. By the end of the century, just one city could remain a viable host.
If climate trends continue the way they’re going, there may not be enough snow on the slopes around Sochi, Russia, or packed-down powder in Vancouver, Canada, by midcentury. Seven other cities could be in similar condition by then, one study projects.
Weather and climate are especially critical to the survival of outdoor sports, says the study’s author Daniel Scott.
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“You're really dependent … on snow cover and the temperatures to make the snow, maintain the ice and snow conditions that athletes need,” said Scott, a professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.
Several of today’s top winter athletes want to speak up about climate now — before it’s too late.
These Winter Olympians are speaking up about climate change
It’s not upstart young athletes dominating this conversation, either. Some of winter sports’ biggest stars, like gold medalist cross country skier Jessie Diggins and two-time gold winning freestyle skier David Wise, are using their platform.
“If the snow goes away, then my job goes away, and all the things that I love to do in the wintertime go away,” said Wise.
If Wise wins another gold this year, he would become the first U.S. man to win three consecutive gold medals in the same event at the Olympic Winter Games, and only the sixth man from any nation to do so in an individual event.
On the latest episode of the My New Favorite Olympian podcast, hosts Ngozi Ekeledo and Apolo Ohno heard from Wise, Diggins and snowboarder Brock Crouch, all outspoken about the future of their sports.
“We as winter sports athletes are the canaries in the coal mine because we get to experience winter more intimately than anybody else does,” Wise said. “Our livelihood depends on it, and having our winters be more and more questionable and volatile really hit us closest to home.”
Less snow on the ground can make Olympic events less safe
Diggins, a Minnesota native, was among a crop of top U.S. athletes who visited Congress in 2018 after the Pyeongchang Olympics to sound the alarm about climate change. She showed photos of moss and flowers blooming in the Arctic Circle in mid-November and told stories of a course that hardly had any natural snow on it, presenting a safety hazard.
She reminded lawmakers: “We have one planet. We have one shot. We can’t screw this up.”
“I'm worried about the future of our sport,” Diggins said on the podcast. “I really want my kids and grandkids to be able to ski someday and experience the sport that I love so much. I don't want to be the generation that ruins it for everybody else.”
Diggins' advocacy drew the attention of multiple senators, including Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat who represents Diggins' home state.
“Her taking on climate change is just part of her whole goal in life to take on big things,” Klobuchar said. “She did it with winning the gold when no one thought she was going to, and she’s taking on what I consider the biggest crisis in our world right now, which is our warming climate.”
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One of the most frustrating issues for the athletes speaking out about the warming climate? Deniers. For Diggins and Wise, climate change is not up for debate. The same goes for snowboarder Brock Crouch, who considers himself lucky to be alive after a 2018 avalanche — something scientists consider just one measurable impact of the weather variability caused by climate change. (Last winter had the highest avalanche death toll in U.S. history, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.)
“It sucks when people don't believe in it or don't see it changing,” Crouch said. “So when you're seeing it in front of your eyes, it's something that's pretty scary for sure.”
Scott says change has to come in order to prevent a level of warming that would make outdoor winter sports impossible.
“If you want to preserve this for future generations or your kids are involved in these sort of sports, if skiing is part of your lifestyle, there's a real difference between a low- and a high-emission future,” Scott said. “We can't stop all of the impacts, but we can stop the worst of them.”