ROSA KHUTOR, RUSSIA — “Hot. Cool. Yours.” That's the slogan of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Now, it may be too hot.
Halfway up the main ski mountain for the Winter Olympics, it is starting to look like the Spring Olympics. Snow is starting to melt. At lunchtime, skiers peel off parkas — and sometimes shirts.
But sports doctor Sergei Litkov, a native of the region, says not to worry.
“It will all be OK,” said the trauma surgeon who pulled off his shirt at lunch.
“At the top, there is a 1.5 meter — 2 meter base,” he said of the snow pack.
But one man’s tanning salon is another woman’s skiing nightmare.
Italian Alessia Dipol skis downhill slalom for the team of Togo.
“Today, I had training, but the snow was really, really soft, and I don’t really like so much this type of snow,” she said, standing in wet snow. “It is slower, and the volunteers put salt, so it is like shampoo, skiing on shampoo. I don’t like it.”
Skiers complain that softening snow is deciding race results. As a result, Olympic organizers are moving races to earlier in the morning.
At the peak of Rosa Khutor mountain, nighttime temperatures still fall below freezing.
But at mid-mountain, temperatures at lunchtime rise to a balmy 13 Celsius.
“The top is pretty amazing," says Yvonne Batal, a volunteer from Utah, a major American skiing state, after an outdoor lunch in the sun. "The conditions are terrific. But as you get to the bottom, it’s like mashed potatoes — completely, awesome spring skiing.”
An international army of volunteers is working to get the Olympics through this warm spell — forecast to last until Wednesday.
American volunteer John Lychak, a Pennsylvania lawyer, recalls working on the Men’s Downhill course.
“Our shift was from 12 midnight until approximately 8 a.m., [a] crew of maybe 30 or 40 of us with high pressure hoses and pouring literally thousands and thousands of gallons onto the slope," he said. "They would churn it up and it would freeze overnight and they would create the surface they were looking for.”
Climate change makes technology increasingly key for the Winter Olympics.
A new historical study shows that average February temperatures for Sochi and other Winter Olympic host cities increased by seven degrees Celsius since the first Winter Olympics was held in 1924.
In the mountains above Sochi, people hope there will be enough snow this year for the Olympics’ scheduled concluding event — the Men’s 50 kilometer Cross Country on February 23.
“At the peak it’s a bit colder than here, but at the base we have a lot of events,” said Lychak. “With the lower elevations it is going to make a big difference.”
His colleague believes there will be enough snow to go around.
“There will be a snow miracle,” said Batal.
For now, people are praying for the "Cool" in the Olympic slogan.