The Desolation of Smog

The rugged Himalayan foothills and gorgeous mountainous desert that make up the landscape of Almaty, Kazakhstan bely a city and a nation epitomizing the struggle our world faces as we embrace modernity.

Every day, we rise above the city and drive to the venue, which sits at just over 3,000 feet in elevation. From here we try and see down into the valley where Almaty lies. I say “try” because Almaty’s defining characteristic thus far has unquestionably been the thick, brazen, cloud of smog that envelops the city and the surrounding valley. Each morning begins with a partially clear view of the city, and as the sun rises, so does the smog, making it impossible to see more than a mile away. Eventually the smog makes its way up to the venue, where the smell permeates our suits and jackets, and chokes us through our buffs.

Almaty is a contradiction. A beautiful city from the old silk road, with a rich colorful history, and a kind and generous people who are embracing modern production values and eroding their history and beauty in the process. The smog here is a result of over 3 decades of relatively unregulated, and uncontrolled industrialization in the city of Almaty. It creates warmer temperatures, which make it harder for natural snow to accumulate, leaving the organizers to try and field a world class competition with only rocky man made snow as an offering. I can’t help but think of skiing cities such as Salt Lake Utah, or even my hometown area in the Twin Cities which will inevitably reach the polluted levels of Kazakstan, unless they change the rules governing their own pollution standards. How will cities like those be able to hold world class ski races? And as it becomes harder to do so, will ski racing become extinct all together? This is why my teammate Andy Newell and thousands of others fight so fiercely to promote climate change awareness through organizations such as Protect our Winters. This is why we all have to care more about how we are treating our environment, because although it may not come swiftly, the end of skiing could be coming… unless we can change.

That may sound brash, but Almaty is also a look into the future skiers may face, as natural snow becomes more rare. This city, which may very well host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, is a perfect example of why the environmental fight skiers find ourselves in the middle of actually does matter. I only hope Almaty , and it’s brutal smog, become an exception to my skiing experiences instead of the rule.

-BS

Next week, Ben and the Annies will be competing at U23 World Championships in Almaty, KAZ. Follow the event here

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