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Amidst well-documented instances of contaminated tap water, broken doors, broken elevators and seemingly ill-placed surveillance, there’s another absurdity casting a shadow over this year’s Winter Olympics: Sochi is subtropical beach resort that averages 52 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. It’s hardly the most obvious location for a massive sporting event that relies on cold weather. But with reports that half the venues that have been home to the Winter Olympics over the past 100 years will be too warm to host the games by 2080, it’s worth noting: how did Russia cover Sochi in snow?

sochi, winter olympics, olympics 2014, snow cannons, snow, global warming, subtropicalMartynova Anna /

To ensure that Russia would not be embarrassed by substandard (or absent) snow, Olympic organizers undertook a variety of techniques. The games rely on 450 snow cannons, which can function in temperatures up to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The Verge notes that Sochi’s management team “refused to disclose the technical details of the program,” but it is known that the system is supported by two sizable reservoirs capable of providing 12,000 gallons of water a minute, strictly to make snow. It constitutes one of the largest snow-making systems in Europe.

But if the snow cannons fail, or can’t quite meet the demand of the games, the organizers have a backup plan. Last year, the rural area experienced a significant accumulation, and around 16 million cubic feet of that snow was arranged into 10 storage piles high up in the mountains before being wrapped in isothermic blankets to ensure that it wouldn’t melt over the summer months. Channels were then constructed to divert this stored snow to lower altitudes in a series of “mini-avalanches.”

All in all, it’s a massive endeavor, and undoubtedly one of the reasons that the cost of the Sochi Olympics has reached such extraordinary heights. But if warming continues at its current pace, it may not be the last time that such an effort will be required in order to ensure snowy slopes for the Winter Olympics. The 2010 games in Vancouver were dogged by unseasonably warm weather and substandard snow. If over half of the former Winter Olympic venues are unable to serve as hosts by 2080 (and some suggest that time could come sooner—in as little as 40 years), then snow cannons might just become a regular feature and expense of the games. But at 12,000 gallons of water a minute, they come at an environmental cost of their own.

Via The Verge