Olympic Snowmaking Tricks

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Many ski areas can convert over 5,000 gallons per minute of water into snow or about a truckload of water every minute.

Cold, dry air is ideal for snowmaking. In fact, some resorts have made snow at 38 to 40 degrees with extremely low humidity. But the Sochi area is near the Black Sea, and often gets waves of warm moist air. That’s why the Olympic organizers have a backup plan. His name is Mikko Martikainen.

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Martikainen, president of Snow Secure, a Helsinki firm, has stockpiled 500,000 cubic meters of natural snow at Rosa Khutor under tarps made of a special geotextile insulation that have kept it cool since it fell last winter.

Martikainen wants to be sure that if disaster in the form of warm weather strikes that the games will go on. During the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic games, the lack of snow forced some racers to ski over rocks during training runs.

The other problem, Martikainen said, is too much snow. That will require an army of volunteers, and places to shovel it.

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For the Alpine events, after officials groom the slopes and set up a series of red and blue gates, liquid water and special hardening chemicals are sprayed onto the race course. That makes the snow surface rock hard, minimizes the ruts dug by ski edges, and provides a  consistent surface for all competitors.

The good news, according to both snow-making experts, is that cold temperatures have gripped Rosa Khutor and snowmaking has been underway since November. Still, the two anxiously check e-mailed weather reports several times a day to make sure there isn’t a big meltdown before the games’ opening on Feb. 6.

"The athletes are professionals, they will handle it no matter happens," Martikainen said from Helsinki. "Still we have to remember that Nature is strong, and if it decides to do anything abnormal, then it will do it."