Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Olympic Warmth

Norwegian skier Chris Jespersen races in the 15 km cross country final (Getty Images)
If you are a ski junkie like me, you've probably been seeing some crazy stuff at this year's Olympics.  Temperatures have been ridiculously warm and this has clearly had an impact upon the events.  It's too bad that NBC has ice skating on the brain.  With a little thought and marketing they could easily take advantage of the scantily clad uber-athletic cross country skiers to boost ratings.

American Sophie Caldwell in the 10 km classical final (AP Photo Matthias Schrader)
Everyone races in the same conditions (for the most part, although warmer snow typically deteriorates more quickly, resulting in a bigger handicap for later skiers than occurs in cold weather), but this is the Winter Olympics, not the Spring Olympics, and I miss seeing races on cold, fast snow.  The problem with Sochi is that it has a somewhat maritime snow climate that is susceptible to thaws and rain.  They could have gotten lucky and had a cold pattern set up for the games, but when you put the Olympics in areas with maritime snow climates, this is what can happen.  

Sochi has an average high in February of 50ºF.  That's even with Seattle's Feb high and four degrees warmer than Vancouver where the games were held in 2010.  Altitudes in the Sochi Mountain Cluster, which includes the Laura Cross Country Center and the Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort range from about 2,000 feet to 6,500 feet.  Thus, this is like holding an Olympics in the Washington Cascades (Snoqualmie Pass is 3,000 feet), except the sun is even higher since Sochi is at 43ºN.  

My guess is that the high mucky mucks who run and sponsor the olympics love the warm weather, but most of the athletes don't.  You can bet that the Norwegian cross country team, which has fallen well below expectations in this games, can't wait to see the Olympics in a colder climate.  The good news is that Pyeongchang, South Korea, is climatologically several degrees colder than Sochi in February, although I suspect they have their own share of weather concerns, as does any Olympic city.  

Contenders for the 2022 games (Oslo, Norway; Krakow, Poland; Almat, Kazakhstan; Lviv, Ukraine; Beijing, China) are colder still, with the exception of Beijing, although the outdoor venues would be in Zhangjiakou, which as an average February high of only 35F.  Let the bidding for a real winter Olympics begin...

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