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Winter Olympics athletes travel thousands of miles for new training spots due to melting glaciers

By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer
February 01, 2018, 8:59:23 AM EST


The effects of climate change have forced some athletes competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics to trek far from home to find ideal training locations.

Some United States-based athletes have reportedly traveled thousands of miles away to places, including Finland and the Swiss Alps, on the hunt for the perfect training conditions, because it’s simply not wintry enough back home.

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Disappearing glaciers and rising average temperatures have significantly impacted the sports industry, according to professional snowboarder Blake Tholen Clark.

“Major competitions can’t be held in November and the venue moves elsewhere,” Clark said.

It’s not just a problem for Olympic athletes. According to 2009-10 data from Climate Central, the skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling industries pumped $12.2 billion into the U.S. economy.

Snowboarding


Winter tourism will take a hit if the winter months continue to lose their chill.

“While teaching in Vermont, a trainer told me he thought there would be palm trees growing there in a few decades, and Park City Resort [in Utah] opened late [this year and last year] due to lack of snow and cold weather,” Clark said.

In the past, U.S. athletes had little need to travel abroad to find optimal off-season training conditions, which include low temperatures and lots of fresh snow for snowboarding.

“Athletes will travel great distances to train in these conditions and will have to if there isn't snow," Clark said.

Destination PyeongChang


Warming trends may make it especially hard on skiing competitions, according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson.

“[This is especially true for] cross-country events that are more dependent on natural snowcover than the downhill events on mountains, which are more likely to be easily covered with man-made snow if necessary," Anderson said.

Sustained low temperatures are critical for maintaining an ideal snow base, and global warming will likely make it harder to achieve this, Anderson said.

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However, bobsleigh, luge and ski jumping events usually can be controlled by man-made cooling systems built into the tracks, and indoor events such as hockey and figure skating wouldn’t be impacted by a warming Earth.

While athletes commonly travel to the Southern Hemisphere for summer training, camps on glaciers and winter training locations are often drastically altered by the weather, according to physical therapy specialist Lauren Ziaks.

“A training schedule will be created prior to the season starting; however, if Tahoe or Colorado is having a dry year, last-minute changes will need to be made,” Ziaks said.

It’s possible that only six of the previous 19 Winter Olympics host cities would be able to host the Olympic Games again by the late 21st century if carbon emissions continue on the current trend, Climate Central reported.

For future Winter Olympics, the International Olympic Committee may need to choose host sites that are farther north or higher in elevation than locations selected in recent decades, Anderson said.

“The problem with that is you may be going into more isolated areas that cannot support such an event due to a lack of infrastructure and money,” Anderson said.

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