Only six of the 19 cities that have hosted Winter Olympics in the last century would be cold enough to reliably host a Games by the end of this century, predicts a new study led by a Canadian climate change expert.

University of Waterloo associate professor Daniel Scott, the study lead author and Canada Research Chair in Global Tourism, says that if United Nations projections about global warming prove accurate, most previous host sites would not get enough snow and cold temperatures to host Winter Olympics again.

“Fewer and fewer traditional winter sports regions will be able to host a Olympic Winter Games in a warmer world,” Scott said in a statement.

The study was conducted by a team from Waterloo and Austria’s Management Center Innsbruck. It looked at two key factors in deciding whether a former host city could host a Winter Games again:

  • the probability that daily minimum temperatures at the competition elevation would remain below freezing
  • the probability that a snowpack of at least 30 cm could be maintained at higher elevations

The study found Former Olympic venues such as Vancouver/Whistler, Sochi, Squaw Valley, Calif., and Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany would no longer have the climates needed to host the Games by 2050.

As well, if global warming trends continued, as few as six former host locations would remain suitable by the 2090s, the study predicts.

The six sites the study predicts would remain cold enough include: Calgary; Salt Lake City; St. Moritz, Switzerland; Albertville, France; and Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.

The average February daytime temperature of Winter Games locations has been steadily rising, the study found, with average temperatures in the 1920 to 1950s hovering around 0.4 degrees Celsius, before rising to 3.1 C during the 1960-90s, and 7.8 C in Games held in the 21st century.

The study authors note that in the early years of the Winter Olympics -- long before the invention of snow-making equipment and bobsled track refrigeration -- snow sports were held exclusively on natural ice and snow. Study co-author Robert Steiger of the Management Center Innsbruck says it would be difficult to imagine doing the same today.

Even with snow-making and refrigeration technologies, Scott says “there are limits to what current weather risk management strategies can cope with…. By the middle of this century, these limits will be surpassed in some former Winter Olympic host regions.”