With the Olympics serving, in a larger geopolitical sense, as a jingoistic opportunity to laugh at everything that goes wrong, host cities sure spend a lot of time and money on the one thing they can't actually control: the weather. China reportedly seeded clouds before the 2008 games, so they'd expend their rain before reaching Beijing. And Russia, after a remarkably warm and dry Sochi winter, is stockpiling tons of snow high in the mountains, in case they need it next year.
In February, a series of test events at Sochi were canceled for a lack of snow. Could it happen again? Sochi is a beach resort, roughly on a latitude with Monaco. The average winter temperature is 43°. (Exactly one year out from the opening ceremonies, it was well into the 50s.) There's usually snow in the Caucasus, but the winter sports facilities are all new, and Russia had never collected long-term climate data.
It's too late for second-guessing. All that's left is to have a backup plan, and Russia's is massive. Local organizers are in the middle of storing nearly 500,000 cubic meters of snow in shady mountain valleys around Sochi, to be brought down next year in case the weather doesn't cooperate.
"We've prepared seven separate areas for snow storage high up in the mountains," Sergei Bachin, general director of Roza Khutor, a ski resort in Krasnaya Polyana that will host Alpine skiing, snowboarding and freestyle Olympic competition, told Reuters.
"I want to assure all the competitors that there won't be any shortage of snow next February even if we encounter even warmer temperatures next year," he said.
Russia is spending billions on the 2014 games, and it's not just polishing a jewel; it's building a whole new infrastructure. New rails and roads into the city, 37 miles of tunnels, 30,000 new hotel rooms, a new seaport, an airport renovation, two power plants, even a new sewage treatment facility. In all, the Sochi Olympics will cost twice as much as the three previous Winter Games combined.
This is the paradox of awarding Olympics. Do you give them to cities that are already capable of handling host duties, or do you use them to spur development, taking the risk that things will go wrong? The answer, of course, is to give them to the Olympic committees that offer the biggest bribes.