Did Climate Change Kill the Halfpipe at Sochi?

Men's-Pipe-Gallery

It’s been a hot topic this week – the state of that Halfpipe in Sochi! And undoubtably the piss poor conditions were a game changer when it came to both the men’s and Women’s finals…

Critics, old and new, logged in to social media and expressed their outrage. Why weren’t there better shapers? How was the air temperature 10 degrees at a Winter Olympics? WHAT were they spraying out of those Ghostbuster-style backpacks?

Sochi Halfpipe spray ghostbusters
Who you gonna call…?

Then, there was the voice of the elephant in the room. The one that nobody wanted to pay attention to – the Olympics were on after all… But still it persevered:

Is this because of climate change?

Please don’t misunderstand me. It was less of a whisper and more of a battle cry – people are pretty conscious of the environment nowadays after all… BUT even the loudest battle cry can get lost amongst that many cheers.

And although it can be a bit of a cliche, the ‘environmental activist’ character, the question will always be relevant for snowboarders – not least because we’re a group of people who rely pretty heavily on snowy conditions to perpetuate our sport…

But was climate change completely at fault for the Olympic pipe conditions? Well to put it very simply: No.

So why wasn’t it cold enough at Sochi?

Now, we’re not scientists, or geographers, or any one of those people that study the weather either for that matter. So take the following with a pinch of salt. But in a landmass that contains Siberia (the coldest place in the world outside Antarctica), you could be forgiven for thinking that an early February afternoon should be pretty chilly…

Ok, so Siberia’s the other end of Russia, but still, how many of you were expecting it to look like this in the city centre?

Our friend on-site in Sochi rightly questioning how these are still the Winter Olympics p. Jon Weaver
Our friend on-site in Sochi rightly questioned how these are still the ‘Winter’ Olympics p. Jon Weaver

Yes. Sochi is widely known as a beach resort, but is this normal at this time of year?

Well – yes, actually it is. Sochi is located 1,000 km south of Moscow (just incase you didn’t know, Russia is frickin’ HUGE) – and it’s subtropical climate is regularly the hottest place in the country. According to CNN Meteorologists the temperature there is around +3 to +10 centigrade on average in February. Pretty warm ey!

Of course that’s just the temperature at sea level – the mountains where the pipe was built were a bit higher and therefore meant to be 5 to 10 degrees cooler (thanks again Mr CNN…) – and in Rosa Khutor (where the pipe was) February temperatures average -3 to +5 degrees… All of this still makes it the warmest location ever for a Winter Olympic games.

Couple that with the fact that Sochi’s daily average temperatures never drop below freezing (at any time in the year) and you can see how this might not have been the best place to try and create an icy halfpipe… as you may have gathered – those things need to be solid and fast for riders to perform, not the poor bumpy sugary conditions many of them described.

In the words of Ben Bright (Torah’s trainer and brother):

You’ve got a mixed event going on – moguls and halfpipe together – so it’s fucking retarded

With the starting altitude of 1103m, average park temperatures of -3 to +5, and the fact that they had to use stockpiled snow from last year, the variables just weren’t there…

So why did they host the ‘Winter’ Olympics in Sochi?

Well, that’s got us beat us… (and it’s a different debate for another time). But, like the proverbial avalanche – once they had started planning the Sochi games, it would have been pretty hard to stop… So it seems inevitable that since that decision was made, it was always going to be a slightly half assed attempt – cheers IOC…

(Our Editor Tom drew a parallel to hosting the World Cup in Qatar – take from that what you will…)

Nevertheless, it seems like the criteria for choosing the 2014 locations were ‘must have some snow’, not ‘must have cold snow and lots of it’. Which, when you think about it, really should have been made clearer. At the end of the day, this was an event where you needed the right conditions for the sports, not the ideal mixture of snow and sun for a perfect holiday.

What are snowboarders doing about climate change?

So it looks like the real story here was probably just that Sochi was the wrong place to host the Olympics – seriously, the clue’s in the name ‘subtropical’, if it has you thinking about Rubicon mango, it’s not the right place for a winter sports event…

BUT that doesn’t detract from the fact that the temperatures were a little bit higher than usual -and in general, the world’s climate is something we should be actively keeping an eye on.

At the games, Protect Our Winters teamed up with over 100 Olympic athletes to bring the petition Olympic Athletes Against Climate Change to the world’s leaders. Think Progress described it as a call for countries to:

reduce their heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions, embrace clean energy alternatives, and prepare to push for a solution or agreement at the United Nations’ climate convention that will be held in Paris next year.

…which, by all means sounds like a good direction for everyone.

So If you’re looking for more ways to go green – but keep it snowy be sure to check out their site and get involved.

In the mean time, sort it out IOC! Yes, we all like a bluebird day on the slopes, but spring conditions aren’t what the doctor ordered for serious competition.

These Winter Olympic things, you’ve done them before right…?

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Sochi 2014 - Full Round Up of the Olympic Slopestyle and Halfpipe...