After more than a week of competition on courses lined with artificial snow, actual snow and high winds forced the postponement or cancellation of at least two Olympic events on Sunday as gusts blanketed courses and roads slippery made access difficult.
Yes, the Winter Olympics can be too wintry – even in and around Beijing, a region that receives little natural snowfall and has barely seen any so far during the Games.
Steady snowfall that started on Saturday intensified on Sunday in Zhangjiakou, a city about 100 miles northwest of the Chinese capital that hosts skiing and snowboarding events. Regular snow also fell in Beijing and Yanqing, the cradle of board sports and downhill skiing. Some of the events, including alpine skiing, took place in low visibility conditions, with skiers rushing through the gusts.
But the women’s slopestyle, in which 18-year-old Chinese Eileen Gu was favored, was rescheduled for Monday after initially being delayed by two hours. Workers had used shovels, brooms and blowers on the course to prevent snow from accumulating on obstacles and jumps.
The second practice run for the women’s downhill has also been cancelled. And buses carrying Olympic visitors had to put chains on their tires.
Outdoor Olympic venues – including those for alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, halfpipe and ski jumping – have relied on large doses of artificial snow. In many ways, organizers prefer artificial snow because they can control it. When Mother Nature gets involved, all plans are canceled.
The area was expected to receive two to four inches of snow by Sunday evening. A blizzard warning was in effect for much of Sunday for Chongli District in Zhangjiakou, according to the Central Meteorological Observatory. A blizzard warning was also in effect in Beijing.
Sunday was Beijing’s fifth winter snowfall, which is the dry season in Beijing and Zhangjiakou.
“Finally, it feels like the Winter Olympics,” Chris Plys of the USA Curling Team tweeted on Sunday. He shared a video of the snowfall on Sunday, adding the hashtag #letitsnow.
Beijing, a water-scarce city, went to great lengths to ensure there would be enough snow to sustain its run as host of the Winter Olympics. This involved embarking on one of the largest snowmaking operations in Games history. The Herculean effort included flooding a dry river bed, diverting water from a key reservoir that supplies Beijing, and resettling hundreds of farmers and their families, who lived in what is now the competition area, in high-rise apartments.
In recent decades, rapid development has undermined Beijing’s groundwater. July and August often bring heavy rain, but the city and nearby mountains only receive raindrops in winter.