Russia ready to defy Mother Nature and turn summery Sochi into snowy Olympic venue

Russia is putting a considerable amount of effort into the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, but along with all the preparations you'd expect, a fair bit of it is just to ensure that there'll be enough 'winter' to actually have the Olympics.

Despite Russia's reputation for brutal, cold and snowy winters, Sochi is no winter resort. In fact, since it's one of the only cities in the country that has a sub-tropical climate, it's the place Russians go to get away from the brutal winters. Building indoor skating rinks is one thing, but providing a place for all the outdoor events to be held is another matter. There's always the option of going the way of Ski Dubai, the world's largest indoor snow park. However, with the snow-capped Western Caucasus mountains just to the north of the city, along with the right combination of science and technology, the Russians won't have to go those kinds of lengths (at least not yet).

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The organizing committee for the Sochi 2014 games have implemented what they call the "Sochi 2014: Guaranteed Snow" program, set up at the recently completed Rosa Khutor ski resort in the mountains. They haven't revealed all the details of the program, it seems, but for the past several years, they've maintained that there will be natural snow on the ground at the resort, but they're not leaving this all up to nature. Only a couple of parts to the plan are known.

Snow cannon in Canmore, Alberta (Wikimedia Commons)If the weather doesn't deliver them the snow they need, or there simply isn't enough, they have over 400 fixed snowmaking machines installed at the resort, along with 27 mobile ones, fed by two huge water reservoirs. These will produce artificial snow for the slopes by blasting a mixture of water and compressed air above the slopes. This combination breaks up the stream of water into tiny droplets, which freeze into snowflakes before reaching the ground. If conditions aren't right for the water to freeze on its own, agents can be added to the water to give the ice crystals something to form on.

There's another fail-safe to this plan, though. Olympic.org reports that, in preparation for the games, the committee has arranged for 710,000 cubic metres of snow to be stored up from previous winter seasons, just in case. This isn't like sticking a snowball in a freezer, though: That just results in a hard ball of ice, and it wouldn't be of much use for the ski slopes. This snow has been collected into stockpiles, stored high up in the mountains, under heavy insulating blankets. While a little unconventional, this is a perfectly reasonable idea for storing snow, especially over the summer.

High up on the slopes of mountains, temperatures can typically allow snow to stick around all year long. However, keeping the sun's rays off the snow surface gives added insurance. Snow very easily traps heat, because of the large amount of air between the snowflakes. Allow the sun to shine directly onto the snow stockpile and the air trapped inside will slowly heat up and eventually you'll just have another water reservoir. Keep the stockpile covered and pack it as tightly as possible to squeeze as much air out as you can, and the snow will stick around.

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The snow has already been successfully tested on the ski jumps of the RusSki Gorki Jumping Centre, during the Ski Jumping World Cup back in December 2012. For that event, they rolled it out and smoothed it down. It seems they have a slightly more unconventional method in mind if they need it over the next few weeks, though — they're going to get it down to the slopes by setting off mini-avalanches. According to The Verge, those avalanches are going to be controlled by a series of half-pipes, to get the snow precisely where it's needed.

Here's hoping that they've tested that part of it out too.

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