2018 Winter Olympics: The more you “Snow”: Artificial Snow vs. Natural Snow


MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) – All the games of the Winter Olympics rely on one thing: a form of frozen water, namely snow and/or ice. On the outside, the snow Mother Nature naturally makes and the snow humans can create appear very similar, but there are some major differences, especially to the Olympic competitors.

Fresh natural snow is what most recreational skiers, snowboarders and snow lovers seek out. But for competitors, the natural fresh powder makes for an uneven and slower surface, according to PHd Glaciologist (study of ice) and Olympic Biathlete, Sarah Konrad. In her interview with Smithsonian.com, she describes that the intricate shapes that form in natural snowflakes tend to cause bumpier surfaces and lose their structure quicker than artificial snow.

Artificial snow forms from a combination of compressed air and a mist of water. Konrad adds that the expansion of air actually chills the moisture and keeps it aloft. However, the process happens too quick for the flakes to develop the intricate 6 pointed shape. This makes the snowflakes very uniform and predictable. The predictability of the flakes is preferred by the developers of the Olympic alpine courses.

In the case of the last Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014, event organizers created enough artificial snow to cover 1,000 football fields. While it is predictable, the artificial snow can still cause some hiccups on the slopes in warmer weather. Some Olympian snowboarders in Sochi experienced a “grainy” and bumpy halfpipe due to the abnormally high temperatures in the 60s.

Warm weather will not be an issue in Pyeongchang in this year’s Winter Olympiad. The area is the coldest city to host the Winter Olympics in a decade. For more on the different climates of past Winter Olympics, follow the link to First Alert Meteorologist Sean Bailey’s blog.

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