After two balmy Winter Olympics — where athletes stripped clothes off to cool down and snow had to be trucked in — PyeongChang is bringing the winter back.
It’s been so bitingly cold that athletes’ skis are warping and makeup is freezing to the faces of BBC anchors (to be fair, it’s probably freezing to the faces of other people, as well). Officials have even gone so far as to postpone the women’s giant slalom, primarily because of high winds.
In contests not postponed, athletes are facing new and interesting challenges. Biathlon bullets have been blown off-target. Snowboarders attempting to do some pretty epic tricks have been stalled by a brutal head wind before they could even catch air.
Chelsea Janes, who’s at the Olympics for The Washington Post, described Sunday night as the coldest night of her life. She was at the luge track to watch Chris Mazdzer race — he was the first U.S. Olympian to medal this year.
Sunday night was the coldest night of my life. The PyeongChang cold is biting and bitter and helped along by the wind, which might as well be laughing in the face of everyone trying to make the best of things.
I knew it would be cold here. I bought a new coat, new boots, new gloves with a pouch for handwarmers and one of those hood things that makes you look like you’re about to rob a bank. I lugged a few dozen handwarmers in my suitcase. I bought warm socks.
But no amount of gear could have prepared me for the cold I experienced at that luge final. The Olympic Sliding Centre is on a small mountain — a particularly frigid and windy place. As the event went on, snow picked up and the temperature dropped. The night began with a feels-like temperature of five below zero. It ended 10 degrees or so colder.
It was just eight years ago that the Winter Games were mild and snow-starved in Vancouver, B.C., because of the low elevation and the warming effect of the Pacific Ocean. Four years later, Sochi, Russia, suffered the same fate from a similar physical geography; low elevation and proximity to the Black Sea.
Although PyeongChang is also close to a warm body of water — the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea — it is downwind from the frigid Asian interior, and the cold Siberian air has been funneling in howling winds.
In what is expected to be the coldest Winter Games since 1994, temperatures are falling below zero in the mountains and winds are gusting over 45 mph. Those two factors are pushing wind chills into dangerous territory. The strong winds have made it too treacherous to run the alpine speed events.
Conditions are expected to improve slightly at the Yongpyong Alpine Centre and the Jeongseon Alpine Centre midweek, with milder temperatures climbing into perhaps the teens, and a calming of the winds. However, the window will be brief, as the Siberian wind tunnel is expected to crank back up for the weekend. This could cause further disruptions to the outdoor events.