On Friday morning, the International Olympic Committee selected Beijing to host of the 2022 Winter Olympics, assuming that winter sports are still possible at that point. Beijing beat out the much smaller city of Almaty, located in southeastern Kazakhstan in the foothills of the Tien Shan mountains.
Beijing becomes the first city to host both a winter and a summer Olympics. That's because, historically, the Winter Olympics were held in wintry, mountainous places, and the Summer Games in more temperate climates. Until the Games became big business.
If you compare the qualifications of the two cities on wintriness alone, Almaty is both colder and more elevated than Beijing. The Chinese capital is close to mountains, but itself is fairly low.
In 1986, the IOC voted to make two changes to the Olympics in a effort to boost viewership. Professional athletes were allowed to compete, and, beginning in 1994, the Winter Games would be shifted so that they weren't in the same calendar years as the more-popular Summer Olympics. "The Winter Games have always received less attention than the summer events," one member of the IOC told the Chicago Tribune. "This will focus new attention on the winter events."
That change also meant a shift away from the Alpine locations of the past and toward more visitor- (and television-) friendly places. If you look at the average February temperatures and location elevations before and after 1993, the change is obvious.
Take out Salt Lake City and Squaw Valley, and the differences are even more stark. (We're also not too proud to point out that the last winter Olympics were held in Sochi, Russia, which you may remember as being something of a mixed success.) Almaty would clearly have been better off making a pitch for the 1922 Olympiad instead of one a century later.
It's not a bad thing to make the Winter Games more interesting to watch, of course. The question is: How much emphasis is placed on the sports, and how much on the Games itself? The IOC seems to be making its preference obvious.