A Closer Look at the Controversial Decision to Host the 2029 Asian Winter Games in Saudi Arabia

Julia Schneemann | | Industry NewsIndustry News
Neom, which evokes memories of Tatooine, picture: Screengrab from Neom Promotional Video

The Asian Olympic Committee approved the bid by Saudi Arabia to host the 2029 Asian Games. The sports minister, Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al Faisal called it a “Great victory for the Saudi Nation and the whole gulf region.” The location will be a city called Neom, which at this stage does not exist. It is estimated that Saudi Arabia will spend in excess of $1 trillion to create this utopian ski resort in the Trojena region.

Saudi Arabia is hardly a country known for snowsports, let alone snow for that matter. In the last Olympic Games in Beijing in 2022, Saudi Arabia sent one athlete, alpine skier Fayik Abdi, who came 44th in GS. It was the country’s first Olympic winter athlete.

Location of Trojena on Google Maps

Geographically speaking, Trojena is located about 30 miles (50km) from the coast and is close to the border of Jordan. While the majority of Saudi Arabia is a desert climate, the southwestern part is semi-arid. But it’s still not the climate you would expect for a ski area. Trojena is in a mountainous region at 4,900 to 8,500 ft (1500 to 2600 m) altitude; the area is dry and temperatures below the freezing point are rare, therefore snowfall is minimal.

The International Ski Federation (FIS) was apparently not aware of the decision. Michel Vion stated on Tuesday they were surprised by the appointment. He did stress that FIS did not have to be notified of the appointments but it is customary.

The promotional videos of the futuristic-looking ski resort are akin to a Star Wars episode, post-Disney acquisition. I am not sure what is more bizarre: the Halo-like graphics or the fact that all the skiers are skiing uphill.

The appointment of a host nation that not only lacks natural snow or any infrastructure is odd at any time. To have this announcement in the middle of a global energy crisis and during an increased push for sustainability seems in rather poor taste. It is questionable how any country can justify starting a project that will undoubtedly require an incredibly large use of fossil fuels to create infrastructure and make snow in an area that is not ideally set up for it.

For example, snowmaking in a Swiss resort, which has decent amounts of natural snow, consumes 32% of its annual energy consumption. In an area that has little to no natural snow, this will invariably make up a considerably larger amount of energy expenditure. It seems like a frivolous undertaking in this day and age, especially when Asia has other nations like South Korea, Kazakhstan, and Japan which present viable alternatives as host nations.

The Saudi government is adamant that the new city will utilize 100% renewable energy, but current construction pictures depict fossil fuel-powdered Komatsu diggers. The energy expenditure required for the construction is hard to justify in present times, especially when the Olympic committee is pushing to maximize the use of existing infrastructure.

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3 thoughts on “A Closer Look at the Controversial Decision to Host the 2029 Asian Winter Games in Saudi Arabia

  1. In terms of what the skiing might be like, the Afriski comparison is a good one as I think the best we can expect would be short white ribbons of snow on a brown mountain background. The mountains get cold overnight midwinter but rarely below freezing – it’s one of these places where a rare dusting of snow every five years draws thousands of excited tourists to just see the snow and do their Insta posts with it. So (unlike Lesotho) conventional snowmaking seems highly unlikely to work and any snow that could be made in any brief cold weather widow would thaw in the daytime and continue thawing most nights too. So the only answer would seem to be the all-weather snowmaking machines like TechnoAlpin’s SnowFactory which make snow within refrigerated chambers then spread it on the slopes. An expensive way to cover a small area, so they’ll need a lot of machines to cover even half a mile… The snow still melts once out in the air so they’d need to constantly keep topping up the snow.

  2. Example of why America should be drilling like crazy for oil while we work on building clean energy infrastructure and technologies.

    This wealth could be in the US. Instead its transferred to the desert in the middle east and being used to fund ridiculous projects like this and many others.

    Lefties don’t understand economics so I’m just talking into a vacuum of ignorance.

  3. This choice is unsettling if not downright crazy, as the altitude seems awfully low for the kind of latitude Trojena is under. That future “ski resort” is at the same 28° latitude, and as close to the equator, as the exotic Afriski ski run in Lesotho (near South Africa), but the latter boasts a base elevation of 2,917 m (9,570 ft) and a top one of 3,222 m (10,571 ft), and even with that altitude advantage it’s barely able to make snow when natural powder isn’t there.

    Trojena promotional video shows skiers gliding uphill, so the Saudis might have some innovative surprises up their sleeves?

    Since it appears now to be acceptable to steal land from neighbors, like Putin has shown the world why not try that too. The Saudi tribal chief, Mohammed bin Salman a.k.a. MBS, certainly could accomplish this by pushing north, annexing Lebanon and with it, the mountain resort of the Cedars, better know as “Les Cèdres” ski resort, located between 2 066 and 2 600 m above sea level, and at a safer 34° latitude.

    If BSM wants even better and can afford it (he probably does), he could even score better by invading the rest of the Middle East, all the way to Iran, and then settle his ski resort in Dizin, just north of Tehran as his ski resort of choice. This would generate a few sparks, but at a latitude of 36°, a base at 2650 m (8694 ft) and a top reaching to 3600 m (11800 ft) he should be in perfect shape, especially when climate warming is no longer hypothetical!

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