Explained: Why China is using fake snow at the Winter Olympics

Snow generators in Beijing creating fake snow.
Beijing will use 100 per cent fake snow during the Winter Olympics Games. (Getty Images)

Beijing is the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games and this feat is even more remarkable considering it doesn't snow much in the capital of China.

So how is Beijing going to accomodate for the Winter Olympics.

Well, in a historic first, the entire Games will feature artificial snow for outdoor events.

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History of artificial snow at the Winter Olympics

This isn't the first Olympics where fake snow has been used, or warmer conditions have called for solutions.

In 1964, Austrian soldiers hauled 20,000 cubic metres of ice blocks to the slopes of Innsbruck after a dry wind melted the snow on the slopes ahead of the Winter Olympics.

In 1980, snow machines were used at Lake Placid, New York, to blow water droplets into the air to freeze.

The machines were aimed at helping the poor skiing conditions and it marked the first time artificial snow was used at the Games.

Beijing Winter Olympics using 100 per cent fake snow

While snow machines have been used in more recent games to create up to 90 per cent snow, this is the first Winter Olympic Games where we will see 100 per cent fake snow.

Most outdoor events will take place in Zhangjiakou, 160km outside of Beijing.

The climate in Zhangjiakou is cold but dry.

The area only experiences on average 7.9mm of precipitation each winter.

Therefore, this year there will be more than 100 snow generators and 300 snow-cannons working flat out to cover the ski slopes.

They will create more than 1.2 million cubic metres of powder for athletes in outdoor events.

So when Beijing was awarded the Winter Olympics, fake snow was always going to be the answer.

Concerns using fake snow on the environment

There are a number of concerns with Beijing being awarded the Winter Olympic Games.

And one such issue is the resources concentrated in creating such an enormous quantity of fake snow.

Australia's Jakara Anthony (pictured) competes during the Women's Freestyle Skiing Moguls Qualification.
Australia's Jakara Anthony (pictured) competes during the Women's Freestyle Skiing Moguls Qualification in Zhangjiakou, where they are using fake snow. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

An Olympic report in 2015 suggested Beijing had: “underestimated the amount of water that would be needed for snowmaking for the Games” and “overestimated the ability to recapture water used for snowmaking.”

A report estimated China will need 49 million gallons of water to create the required fake snow for the Olympics.

This is on top of Zhangjiakou being one of the most 'water stressed' areas in China.

And a geographer in a Bloomberg report claimed up to two million gallons, or 800 Olympic size swimming pools, of water will need to be diverted to the area for use during the Games.

“There is bound to be some impacts in a region where there is nearly no water in the winter,” Carmen de Jong, a geographer from the University of Strasbourg, told Bloomberg.

Dominik Peter (pictured) of Team Switzerland jumps during the Men's Normal Hill official Training at Zhangjiakou National Ski Jumping Centre.
Dominik Peter (pictured) of Team Switzerland jumps during the Men's Normal Hill official Training at Zhangjiakou National Ski Jumping Centre. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

“For half a year, during the snow sports season, the water stays away from the natural ecosystem.”

What do the athletes think of fake snow?

Athletes have differing opinion on whether fake snow is ideal.

Australian snowboarder Matt Cox was a fan of the fake snow.

"The snow is super grippy here," said the 23-year-old Australian snowboarder.

"Also ... because usually when you get to man-made snow and you rip into an edge, for instance, it slides out on you pretty easily, but with the cold temps here, it's dreamy snow."

Matteo Marsaglia (pictured) of Team Italy skis during the Men's Downhill 2nd training session ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at National Alpine Ski Centre on February 04, 2022 in Yanqing, China.
Matteo Marsaglia (pictured) of Team Italy skis during the Men's Downhill 2nd training session ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at National Alpine Ski Centre on February 04, 2022 in Yanqing, China. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

New Zealand Gold medal hopeful Zoi Sadowski Synnott said the snow was 'amazing'.

"The snow is actually amazing, the man-made stuff. I think because of how cold it is you have to be really aggressive with how you ride," she said.

However, not all athletes are onboard.

"Artificial snow is icier, therefore faster and more dangerous," Estonian biathlete Johanna Taliharm told AP.

"It also hurts more if you fall outside of the course when there is no fluffy snowbank, but a rocky and muddy hard ground."

with Reuters and AP

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