Nordic, Alpine, and Freestyle ski events, along with snowboarding, bobsledding, and ski jumping events will be held within the so called "Mountain Cluster" in the Caucasus Mountains east of Sochi. I suspect that the organizers will rue the day that they named their venue areas clusters. Jon Stewart should have a field day next winter.
|Source: New York Times|
Much has been made of the fact that one can find palm trees in Sochi. How can you have a Winter Olympics in a place where there are palm trees? However, palm trees are not exclusively a tropical and subtropical species. Wikipedia suggests that they can be cultivated as far north as 50º in maritime climates.
Sochi is at 43.6ºN, which is farther north than Salt Lake City, so it really isn't at a subtropical latitude. It does, however, have a fairly mild climate in February that does compare well with coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest. Here's a comparison:
Mean Feb High: 50ºF
Mean Feb Low: 38ºF
Mean Precip: 5.31 inches
Mean Feb High: 51ºF
Mean Feb Low: 36ºF
Mean Precip: 3.66 inches
Mean Feb High: 50ºF
Mean Feb Low: 37ºF
Mean Precip: 3.50 inches
Mean Feb High: 46ºF
Mean Feb Low: 35ºF
Mean Precip: 4.8 inches
The best comparison might be Seattle (Note: Sochi is much warmer in the summer than Seattle, so overall there are important climate differences during other seasons. For a more detailed Sochi climo, see this great weatherspark.com page).
Alpine skiing competition will be held at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort in the mountain cluster. The Men's Downhill, typically the most weather sensitive event of the Winter Olympics, starts at 6709 ft and ends at 3182 ft.
The area has a maritime snow climate, which is characterized by mild temperatures, high density snow, occasional rain (especially near the base), and plenty of clouds. The low elevation of the bottom of the Men's Downhill really grabs my attention. An altitude of 3100 feet in the Washington Cascades is extremely marginal. The only ski areas that operate at that elevation are in Snoqualmie Pass, which benefits from a frequent easterly flow of cold, continental air from eastern Washington. Even still, the climate there sees frequent warm spells and rain. Yeah, it can snow a lot there, but what you want for ski racing is cold, dry weather, good visibility, and hard snow.
Of course climate is what you expect and weather is what you get. Perhaps Sochi will fare better weatherwise than Vancouver, which had the double-whammy of a maritime snow climate combined with a warm winter. I suspect, however, that weather is going to pose some challenges for them, through the postponing of events (the Men's Downhill is scheduled for the first day of the Winter Olympics so that it can be postponed for several days if the weather is bad) and difficult snow conditions for ski racing.