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Olympics Live Updates: Snow Cancels Some Events in Beijing

Mathieu Faivre of France in his giant slalom run on Sunday at the National Alpine Center in Yanqing.Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

For a week, the Winter Games took place successfully almost entirely on manufactured snow. It was the real stuff that caused the most problems.

A snowstorm blanketed Beijing and the surrounding mountains on Sunday, wreaking havoc, especially at the higher elevations in Yanqing, where the Alpine skiing venue was trying to hold a training run for the women and the giant slalom competition for the men.

Officials called off the women’s training but decided to move ahead with the men’s giant slalom in something resembling a whiteout. They delayed the start of the second run by 75 minutes to get the course in shape, using heavy machines known as snow cats, and hoped that the forecast for diminishing snowfall would come true. During the competition, course workers sidestepped and slid sideways down the trail to try to flatten out the new snow.

Skiers prefer to race on a hard, consistent, even icy surface rather than trying to fight their way through six inches of fresh powder, which is what they were contending with through the morning and into the second run during the early afternoon.

Lucas Braathen of Norway said that working through the snow beats up the body far more than zipping down a traditionally groomed course.

“The problem is you are in smooth snow and then all of a sudden you are in the rough stuff and you can’t tell what is coming up next,” he said.

Visibility was minimal, with skiers barely able to see beyond the next gate and not able to discern the safe terrain from the more slick and dangerous as they navigated the 49 gates on the steep, tight slope nicknamed Ice River.

“It’s tough, but we’ve raced in tougher conditions so we knew were going to go ahead with it,” said Luca de Aliprandini of Italy, the second man down the mountain.

This was not supposed to happen in Beijing, where precipitation is minimal. The city and nearby mountains have seen less than 2.5 inches of precipitation per season on average in recent decades, according to data from a weather station near the Olympic venues.

Organizers needed to gather more than one million cubic meters of water, enough to fill 400 Olympic swimming pools, to cover snow sports trails and half-pipes, according to TechnoAlpin, which makes the artificial snow. To gather it all, Chinese authorities have built pumping stations to carry water from reservoirs miles away.

That seemed unnecessary Sunday, when the storm wreaked havoc with plenty of the competitors at the National Alpine Center. Of the 89 skiers who started the race, 33 failed to make it through the first run and advance to the second. And it wasn’t just the novices. Skiers from nontraditional skiing countries like Haiti and Ghana struggled. But so did Ryan Cochran-Siegle, the American who won the silver medal in super G last week. He skied out, as did the rising Norwegian Atle McGrath, and several other top competitors on the World Cup tour.

Conditions worsened and grew slower as the race wore on, which meant that starting early on the first run proved to be a major advantage. On the second run, however, the fastest 30 skiers start in reverse order, setting up the potential for the early leaders to be at a major disadvantage by the end of the race.

“The conditions are the same for every man,” said Adam Zampa of Slovakia. “I don’t know whether to say we should have delayed. It’s funny because every day we have been here it has been sunny and every day after today it will be good weather.”






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