Making the snow stick: wind challenges Winter Games slope makers


ZHANGJIAKOU, China, Nov 29 (Reuters) – Jacques Fournier extends a park-dressed arm, hoping to catch a snowflake on his sleeve to check its quality.

The wind is too strong for it to stick.

“The operator has to follow the wind direction all the time,” said Fournier, his face flushed from the wind and cold, as he stood near a noisy sniper rifle TechnoAlpin TF10 on what will be the skiing course for the Winter Olympics. in February.

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Fournier, 60, leads a team responsible for ensuring the snow is properly made on the trails, slopes and slopes in the arid elevations of Zhangjiakou, nearly 200 km (120 miles) northwest of Beijing in Hebei province. The area will host Olympic events including freestyle skiing and snowboarding, cross-country skiing and ski jumping.

His employer, the Italian TechnoAlpin, says it has 60% of the global snowmaking market and has worked on seven of the last eight Winter Olympics.

Competition snow requires a higher density than recreational snow to meet the requirements of the FIS, the board of professional skiing, and to ensure conditions are consistent for every competitor.

The snow at Zhangjiakou saw its first competitive attempt of the season last week when the FIS held ski and snowboard cross World Cup events.

On a recent day that was especially cold and windy, TechnoAlpin’s yellow snow guns sprayed water at 2.1 liters per second that immediately froze at -11 Celsius (12 Fahrenheit) temperatures.

Dusting snow the night before helped the effort.

Zhangjiakou receives relatively little natural snow, which since Beijing hosted the Games in 2015 has aroused concerns among environmentalists about how much water is used to make it. Alpine skiing will take place at the National Alpine Skiing Center at Yanqing in Beijing, which receives even less snow.

Game officials say conservation efforts will minimize the impact of water use during the Games.

Fournier, who has been Swiss and has been making snow since 1994, said the arid climate requires adjustments to ensure the snow is not blown away while it is being made. Snow water for the cross-country track and other facilities is stored in a nearby reservoir.

“The main challenge is to make the snow as wet as possible in the drier local conditions to keep it on the track, control the evaporation during the snow production and make sure to keep it on the track as compact as possible,” he said.

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Reporting by Tony Munroe and Thomas Suen; Edited by Karishma Singh and Gerry Doyle

Our Standards: The Trust Principles of Thomson Reuters.

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