Olympic skiers and snowboarders are competing for 100% fake snow: does it affect performance?

The Winter Olympics are reminiscent of snow-covered mountains, frozen ice rinks, and athletes in cold weather. And there is a good reason. The venue for the Winter Olympics is often Average annual snowfall of 300 inches that’s all.

However, except for very unusual weather patterns, the mountains surrounding the Beijing Winter Olympics snow event are in brown and green tones, with little snow. Regions are usually A few inches of snowfall In each month of winter. This basically means that all the snow that athletes compete for is man-made.

I Atmospheric scientist A person who specializes in mountain weather and snow. I’m also the founder and avid skier of a snowmaking startup. There are clear differences between natural and snowmaking, and it is interesting to see if these differences affect competition.

How to make fake snow

Both artificial and natural snow are frozen water, but most skiers and snowboarders can quickly recognize the difference between the two.

Uses for traditional snowmaking High pressure water, compressed air, dedicated nozzle It blows small droplets into the air and freezes when it falls to the ground. However, snowmaking is not as easy as making sure the air is cold enough.

Pure water does not freeze until cooled to near -40 F (-40 C).There are only fine suspended particles in the water Freeze on the familiar 32F (0 C).. These particles, known as ice nuclei, serve as a type of scaffolding that aids in the formation of ice crystals.

Without these particles, water has a hard time turning into ice. Different particles can raise or lower the freezing temperature depending on the specific molecular composition.

Two of the best ice nuclei Silver iodide And proteins produced by bacteria Pseudomonas siringe.. Most snowmaking systems Commercial form of bacterial protein In water to ensure that most of the small droplets freeze before reaching the ground.

Glide on artificial snow

Natural snow begins as small ice crystals in the ice nucleus in the clouds. When the crystal falls in the air, Slowly grows into a classic 6-sided snowflake..

Snowmaking guns spray small droplets of cooled water into the air.

In comparison, man-made snow freezes rapidly from a drop of water. The resulting snow is made up of billions of small spherical ice spheres. Although it may resemble natural snow to the naked eye on the slopes, the “feel” of natural and artificial snow is very different.

Artificial snow often feels hard and ice-like, as small ice balls are very dense and some do not freeze until they reach the ground. Fresh, natural “powder” snow, on the other hand, gives skiers and snowboarders a sense of almost weightlessness as they descend the hillside. This is mainly due to the very loose stacking of natural snowflakes. A fresh layer of powder, 95% or more air..

Fresh powder is what most recreational skiers dream of, but Olympic skiers have different tastes. Racers want to glide as fast as possible and use sharp edges to make strong, tight turns. In these respects, the dense ice conditions of artificial snow are actually better.In fact, race organizers are often Add liquid water to the natural snow race course This freezes and ensures a durable and consistent surface for the racer.

Another consideration is the fact that natural snowstorms produce dull, flat lighting and poor visibility. It is a difficult condition to race or jump. Heavy natural snowfall often cancels ski races. It happened at the 1998 Nagano Olympics covered in snow.. For racers, sunny weather and snowmaking also offer benefits there.

However, hard artificial snow has its drawbacks. It seems that freestyle skiers and snowboarders are jumping and sliding on high rails on the ground. Prefers the soft surface of natural snow For safety reasons. This also applies to the recently flagged Nordic skiers. Danger of artificial snow in the event of a collision Like ice, hard surfaces can lead to more injuries.

Imitate nature

Olympic athletes have different needs for snow, but for the vast majority of recreational skiers, natural snow is far superior. Skiing and snowboarding are much softer and more enjoyable because of the air-filled crystals.

Scientists have been trying for decades to create more natural snow when needed. The first way people tried to make “real” snow was to plant silver iodide in natural clouds. The goal was to help the moisture in the clouds turn into snowflakes.If you can do this process-called Wegener-Bergeron-Findeisen Process-It occurs more easily and theoretically increases the snowfall rate.

In fact, it has historically been difficult to prove the effectiveness of sowing.However, recent studies using a series of large and meticulously deployed atmospheric equipment have shown that silver iodide is actually moderately rained with artificial rainfall for some of the storms under the right conditions. Shown to let Increase in total snowfall..

Another option is to create an artificial snowmaking machine that can grow fluffy natural snowflakes because you don’t have to seed storm clouds in the first place.Scientists have been growing snowflakes in the lab for decades, but the process is delicate and usually only researchers. Generates several flakes at once.. Ice crystals usually grow slowly, making it difficult for researchers to scale up the process by the orders of magnitude needed to grow well. snow For skiing. But to make a fluffy powder for skiers and snowboarders, my colleague Trey Alvey and I have developed a process that can produce large amounts of snowflakes using techniques that mimic the natural crystallization process. .. We have commercialized it through our company. Quantum Snow..

The dry, barren mountains that host the 2022 Winter Olympics are not ski destinations. But thanks to snowmaking science, athletes can run reliably to compete, even in the case of ice.When Sports fan Everyone can be grateful for the technology that allows the brave souls competing in skiing and snowboarding events to enjoy the high-speed sights they have acquired.

The Winter Olympics, threatened by climate change,

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Olympic skiers and snowboarders are competing for 100% fake snow: does it affect performance?

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