Sci-fi Sochi: the technology behind the Winter Olympics

Chris Hall
Yahoo News

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi begin in one week. Not for the first time, there are questions hanging over the venue's ability to provide enough snow - not least because Sochi is technically in a 'sub-tropical' climate zone.

After trouble at the Vancouver Oympics, where the organisers were ridiculed for the lack of snow, various precautions have been taken to ensure enough good quality snow is always available. Last year, at Sochi, the slopestyle skiing and snowboarding World Cups had to be cancelled due to insufficient snow, so the pressure is on.


No business like snow business:

Sochi's organisers have made sure that there are snow machines on hand at all the slopes. The snow cannons work by introducing the perfect amount of water vapour into a cool atmosphere under pressurised conditions; it's not always temperature that is the problem, rather it is usually low humidity that inhibits snowfall.

Snow Secure CEO Mikko Martikainen told reporters that artificial snow guns will ensure the mountains are white no matter what the weather. Artificial snow is often regarded to be of a better quality than that provided by Mother Nature. That’s because the air turbulence in machines causes small spheres rather than six-sided flakes to form, and these are more resistant to melting thanks to a smaller surface area.

As well as the snow cannons, Sochi has been keeping vaults of last year’s snow cold using isothermal blankets. The highly insulated fabric has been used to preserve 16million cubic feet of snow for an entire year.

Channels have been dug from the highest peaks down to the ski slopes, to persuade snow to accumulate in the competition areas.

Technology etailer Ebuyer’s main features editor, Daniel Young said: “The technology to create snow can be very complex as you need to keep the snow at the perfect temperature throughout the whole process.

“Keeping the snow cold when it’s on the ground will be a tough task as Sochi has a similar climate to the coastal Mediterranean, but with a higher winter humidity.”

There will also be snow-grooming machines on hand to keep all the outdoor courses in tip-top condition – much like the machines which resurface ice rinks. 'Snow Grooming' manufacturer PRINOTH, from the South Tyrol mountains, has been appointed to manage the slopes. Two expert snow groomers have been sent to Sochi.


It's not all about the snow; advanced technology is at work elsewhere as well. Although they look like your everyday skin-tight skating suit, the outfits of the US speed-skating team have had some engineering help from Lockheed Martin, the world's largest defence company.

Working with performance clothing specialist Under Armour, Lockheed Martin, which manufactures fighter jets, have spent more than two years developing this futuristic gear.

Using wind tunnel tests to evaluate how aerodynamic their prototypes were, the companies have developed a suit with minimal drag and supreme air-cutting abilities. Codenamed the Mach 39, the suit is covered with tiny bobbles which are designed to disrupt the air in the same way that a golf ball does.

The suit also features a heat-reducing mesh panel on the back, and friction-reducing patches on the legs.

Olympian Patrick Meek told the Washington Post: “There’s no doubt in my mind this is the fastest speed skating suit ever made.” It is bound to draw comparisons, however, with the infamous Speedo LZR swimming bodysuit, which was banned after competitors using it smashed world records.

Another boost to Team USA’s medal potential came in the form of a BMW bobsled, which was constructed in conjunction with the US Bobsled and Skeleton Foundation.

The car manufacturer’s expertise in aerodynamics and engineering resulted in the production of a super-sleek, ultra-speedy, carbon-fibre bobsled – with a BMW badge at the front.

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