The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing faced one big problem right off the bat: the city is incredibly dry in the winter despite chilly temperatures, which meant the games would rely almost entirely on artificial snow. While the IOC has promised everything would be as green as possible, scientists have been skeptical that’s the case. Putting winter sports terrain in a city otherwise devoid of snowfall has created some ridiculous backdrops on TV, and that’s particularly the case for the big air events.
Beijing built a permanent big air park in the middle of a former steel mill on the west side of the city. The big air jump sticks out like a sore thumb against an otherwise snowless urban setting. While Twitter is getting off jokes about the park looking like it’s wedged inside a nuclear power plant, those cooling towers are now the most distinct part of the repurposed park. The long-term plan is to turn one of those towers into a wedding venue, according to the AP.
Some of these big air shots are surreal given the backdrop. Check it out.
This looks very strange in a promotional tweet:
Women's Big Air Qualifying is up NOW on @USA_Network and @peacockTV!@TeamUSA, in the order they're going out.— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 7, 2022
Caroline Clair - 14th
Marin Hamill - 19th
Maggie Voisin - 21st
Darian Stevens - 22nd#WinterOlympics // #WatchWithUS pic.twitter.com/BWHY5us5xi
While people online have been mocking the park, the athletes at the games are impressed with the venue. USA Today caught up with competitors in big air skiing who only had good things to say about the set up:
“It’s really cool to have a venue that’s accessible,” said Switzerland’s Mathilde Gremaud, who will compete in the women’s freestyle skiing final on Tuesday. “You can come in with your sneakers.”
“It’s definitely cool being in a stadium vibe,” said Darian Stevens, the only American who made the women’s final. “That’s not typically a thing.”
American freeskiier Nick Goepper hit the nail on the head when speaking to the AP: “This feels like it was created in a virtual world, in a video game,” he said.
Twitter wasn’t as kind.
China closed the mills ahead of the 2008 Summer Games in an effort to help clean up pollution. It is also saying the park is all part of an effort to encourage its citizens to participate in winter sports. That sounds great, but big air is of course an incredibly difficult event that only the most skilled people in the world can safely compete in.
Skiers and snowboarders doing some of their gnarliest tricks next to a former steel mill feels like something out of another dimension. When we think back to these Beijing games, the image of giant ramps next to cooling towers will be one of the first that jumps to mind.