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Will We Lose Ski Jumping to Climate Change?

I’ve been wondering which category should this post be filed under, since it deals with environmental issues as well, but eventually realized that I’ll be ranting about the sport itself a fair bit. Yet you should still find a fair amount of references to environmental issues, since this is the idea that I started from and there certainly seem to be an increasing amount of problems caused by unsuitable weather, even in spite of the recent rule changes, which were mainly meant to mitigate the effects of such issues and allow the competition to continue even when the weather isn’t cooperating.

Ski jumping is and will always be an outdoor sport. The kind of gigantic wind tunnels which would need to be built in order to provide good and controlled conditions to the jumpers are completely unfeasible, so the sport will keep needing to find ways to manage the weather. However, this seems increasingly harder to do in recent years, when we see competitions dragging on and even getting canceled more and more often, almost always due to unsuitable weather, which includes a lack of snow in areas that should normally be covered in a thick white blanket at the date the competition is scheduled.
Yes, the wind is often to blame, blowing too hard or from the wrong direction, and that can be said to be in part due to the way the sport is developing, but this is hardly the only reason for the problems. Ever increasing hill sizes result in more time spent in the air and therefore a higher sensitivity to wind conditions, but that’s normal and not what this post is about. Instead, as I said above, this post is about the competitions plagued by high temperatures, lack of snow, sometimes even rain, or quite the contrary, heavy snowfalls precisely at the wrong time. All of these things are obvious effects of climate change, seeing as these competitions usually take place in locations that have been used for many decades and are known to usually have just the right conditions for a sport that’s so sensitive to any changes in the weather.

I’d have a hard time picking any rounds from this season that haven’t been plagued by unsuitable weather. On top of high winds, which have always been a problem for this sport, I have seen competitions canceled and moved due to a complete lack of snow, competitions for which the snow was brought from the surrounding area because there wasn’t enough of it in one place, competitions plagued by high temperatures and even rain, leading to the snow rapidly melting, and also competitions with the opposite problem, namely heavy snowfalls coming precisely at the wrong time. And all of this without even being halfway through the season yet!
This is hardly something new, but I don’t think there has ever been a time when there were quite so many problems with the weather. Of course, seeing as such weather problems have plagued the sport more and more frequently in recent seasons, it was quite obvious that we will end up reaching a point when nearly every single competition will be a struggle. However, that doesn’t make it any less alarming when it actually does happen, particularly when you realize that it’s only going to get worse. And, at this point, I’m not sure how much worse it can get without seriously jeopardizing the continued existence of the sport itself, considering how much it relies on having just the right conditions on the selected days at the selected locations year after year.

Under these circumstances, these new rules that have been in use and infuriating nearly everyone for the past couple of seasons, with the adjustments made for wind and start gate, therefore allowing the start gate to be moved over the course of a round without this requiring a restart anymore, can be said to be a desperate attempt to keep the sport alive. However, they mainly deal with changing wind conditions and, to some extent, can help mitigate the negative effects of a moderate snowfall. They can’t be of any help when it comes to the problems most notably caused by climate change, namely high temperatures, lack of snow or the presence of rain. No rule changes could ever make a winter sport keep going when the winters are going away.
On the other hand, there is a summer competition, so the sport itself may continue to exist even without snow. But what will become of it then, when a winter sport will become a summer sport instead and the snow and cold will be replaced by artificial carpeting and warm weather? I don’t have any interest in the summer competition now and I’m sure I’m not the only one, so what will happen with the number of fans if the sport will be forced to focus more and more on such competitions at the expense of the traditional winter ones, which will become increasingly difficult to organize? By how much will it drop, and how will a sport that currently enjoys such a significant following cope with such a loss of fans? Will it remain relevant under those circumstances?

I don’t really see solutions and the future seems bleak, seeing as the conditions are almost certain to continue to worsen. It’s a sad state of affairs to say the least, but it is also one more thing that shows the kind of effects our continued indifference to greenhouse gas emissions has. That is, if simply looking outside and noticing that you no longer get anything worthy of being called a winter isn’t enough for you, because I for one have noticed getting only two of those over the past decade. But many may not care enough to see such things, or may just want to get things done without thinking about Nature’s cycles and therefore be happy that snow no longer gets in their way. Yet those same people, if any of them happen to be ski jumping fans as well, may notice how this affects the sport and start thinking, even if just a little. And if they’ll also have commentators like the one we have here, who, whenever a competition is plagued by such problems, makes a point of briefly mentioning that, considering what we keep doing to it, it’s amazing that Nature isn’t lashing out even worse, even better.


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