BEIJING (AP) – Dry Beijing barely gets any winter precipitation, making this year’s Winter Games the first to rely almost entirely on artificial snow. Organisers are touting the event’s green credentials, but experts do worry about the environmental impact of such a massive snowmaking operation given the huge amounts of water and electricity it takes.
At Yanqing north of Beijing, where organisers built the alpine ski venue from scratch, the slopes stand out as ribbons of white contrasting starkly against the surrounding brown hillsides. Snowmakers have also been deployed farther in Zhangjiakou, which is hosting freestyle skiing, ski jumping and biathlon.
All of it is the product of months of snowmaking using sophisticated European equipment.
Here’s a closer look at the Olympic snowmaking operation:
HOW IT WORKS
Natural snow is formed high up in the clouds when water vapour molecules cling to tiny particles like pollen or dust. In scientific lingo, these specks are dubbed nucleators. They create a snow nucleus that then attracts more water molecules to form snowflakes.
Snowmaking equipment tries to duplicate this process, artificially, by spraying atomised water into the air along with mechanically created nucleators – tiny ice crystals – that act as seeds for the manufactured snowflakes.
TechnoAlpin won the bid to supply the Beijing games with snowmaking equipment, a contract worth USD22 million.
The Italian company has blanketed the slopes with 272 snowmaking fan guns and another 82 stick “lances” to produce “technical snow” for the Winter Olympics skiing and snowboarding venues. They’re all hooked up to a system of high pressure pumps and pipes that carry water chilled by cooling towers up the slopes.
TechnoAlpin’s fan guns resemble small jet engines or oversized hair dryers, with nozzles spraying either atomised water or ice crystals mounted around the edge of a turbine. The guns, which can be aimed remotely using Bluetooth, blast the mixture dozens of metres into the air to cover broad downhill slopes.
“And while it’s falling to the ground, snow is created,” said TechnoAlpin’s China sales manager Michael Mayr.