Heading into the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, there have been many predictions of trouble.


Unfinished buildings.

MONTAGNE: Unsold tickets.

INSKEEP: Possible terrorism.

MONTAGNE: Not enough snow - well, you can take that last item off the list. As NPR's Tamara Keith reports, there is plenty of snow on the competition slopes.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Skiers zip by on a practice run at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Ski Course, with not a cloud in the sky above them. You can't hear the skis on the snow, though, because there's a snowmaking machine blasting water into the cool, dry air. It mists down onto the ground below in fine ice particles - man-made snow.

Ted Hardy is a snow machine technician with SMI Snowmakers, a Michigan-based company that designed and is now operating the Sochi snow-making system.

TED HARDY: Super PoleCat, fully automatic - and yes, it's making good snow.


KEITH: The machine is a big, sophisticated, fan-pump-water-spraying system up on a pole towering over the mountainside. And it has a lot of company. SMI put in more than 400 machines and two man-made lakes to draw water from. It was one, giant insurance policy to make sure there was snow on the mountains, and events could go ahead even if there wasn't much natural snow.

Ian Honey is the project manager.

IAN HONEY: You're in the mountains so you play with Mother Nature, and you deal with what she's giving you. The system is designed around having extremely marginal conditions - not normal conditions, but extremely marginal conditions.

KEITH: This time last year, it was warm and raining on the slopes. But despite all the concerns...

HONEY: Right now, the conditions are quite good.

KEITH: So good that they are able to make snow in the middle of the day, and not just in the cold of night. Honey says on average, the mountain has about 5 feet of man-made snow plus some natural snow and stockpiled snow from last year, spread on the slopes as a base.

HONEY: And right now, as of today, we've pumped a little over 970,000 cubic meters of water, which equates to 1.6 million cubic meters of snow.

KEITH: Translated?

HONEY: Nine hundred and twenty - I believe - football fields with a foot of snow over them.

KEITH: He did the math while watching the Super Bowl. And they're still pumping it out, to keep the most heavily trafficked parts of the slopes fresh. Honey moved to Sochi for this project four years ago.

HONEY: She's coming to full fruition. It's like having a child grow up and go away, you know? It's good.

KEITH: He says the only thing that would make him nervous now is a monsoonal rain event, and he says that isn't happening.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Sochi.


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