BEIJING (Reuters) -Climate change is threatening the Winter Olympics and the future of snow sports by making conditions much more dangerous for athletes and participants, experts warned in a report published a week before the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.
The Games, which start on Feb. 4, will be the first Winter Olympics to use almost 100% artificial snow, deploying more than 100 snow generators and 300 snow-cannons working flat out to cover the ski slopes.
"This is not only energy and water intensive, frequently using chemicals to slow melt, but also delivers a surface that many competitors say is unpredictable and potentially dangerous," said the report, written by researchers from the Sport Ecology Group at Loughborough University in England and the Protect Our Winters environment group.
The Beijing organising committee has issued a sustainability report saying the Games' "smart snowmaking system" could use 20% less water than traditional methods.
The organisers have also sought to counter fears that the Games will put pressure on local water supplies by saying they will rely for their snowmaking on mountain runoff and rainfall collected during the summer.
The research noted that climate change meant natural snow was becoming less plentiful in many regions of the world, and was reducing the amount of water available for artificial snow, putting the global snow sport industry at risk.
"Navigating erratic snow seasons and rapid melt of low-level resorts are now the norm for many competitors," the research said.
"The risk is clear: man-made warming is threatening the long-term future of winter sports. It is also reducing the number of climatically suitable host venues for the Winter Olympiad."
Of the 21 venues used for the Winter Games since the French resort of Chamonix hosted the first in 1924, researchers estimate that, by 2050, only 10 will have the "climate suitability" and natural snowfall levels to host an event.
Chamonix is now rated "high risk" along with venues in Norway, France and Austria, while Vancouver in Canada, Sochi in Russia and Squaw Valley in the United States are deemed "unreliable".
(Reporting by Muyu Xu and David Stanway; Editing by Michael Perry and Kevin Liffey)