Does The Cold Affect The Luge? The Winter Olympics Are Chilling Athletes To The Bone

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The PyeongChang games are shaping up to be positively freezing, with sub-zero temperatures blanketing the South Korean city in the weeks before the opening ceremony. This has raised questions about how the frigid temperatures will affect the games themselves. For example, does the cold affect the luge?

The luge (along with its sister sports, the bobsled and skeleton) is meant to be played in ice-cold temperatures, so generally speaking, it's not adversely affected by the cold. That said, USA Bobsled & Skeleton Marketing and Communications Director Amanda Bird told AccuWeather that if it's cold enough, the ice on the bobsled track can get sticky. Given that bobsledders use the same course as sliders (that is, luge athletes), it stands to reason that cold temperatures would affect the luge in the same way.

The freezing temperatures in PyeongChang have already caused issues for some athletes. According to Reuters, the snow in PyeongChang was so hard and rigid earlier in the week that it warped some skis during practice runs, ruining them and forcing coaches to replace them days before the games kicked off.

“Snow crystals get really sharp when temperatures go to -20 degrees and the base burns," Austrian Alpine skier Marcel Hirscher told Reuters on Tuesday. "It’s the same as lighting fire and burning your base because the snow crystals get such sharp edges."

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That said, just about all of the athletes in PyeongChang are well-equipped to deal with cold weather — these are the Winter Games, after all.

"I like to embrace the cold and see it as an awesome thing for me, because I'm used to it," U.S. cross-country skier Jessie Diggins told NPR. "And I think I like it more than most people. And so for me, that's going to be my advantage. Instead of seeing it as, 'Oh this might be so hard for me,' I see it as, 'Great, this is an area where I can shine.'" Diggins added that she's from Minnesota, and said it had recently been "minus-30s Fahrenheit, so we're used to some pretty cold days."

The bigger concern is the attendees, many of whom may not be used to  — or prepared for — the frigid conditions to which they'll be exposed when the games kick off.

Of special concern is the Opening Ceremony. Despite the fact that PyeongChang is the coldest city on Earth at its latitude, the stadium in which the ceremony will take place does not have a roof. To make matters worse, it doesn't have a central heating system, either.

There's good reason to think that this will cause problems. In November, there was a pop concert at the same stadium in which the Opening Ceremony will be held. That resulted in seven concertgoers being treated for hypothermia. On Saturday, a rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony was so cold — around six degrees with a wind chill factor of negative seven, according to CBS Sports — that many spectators simply walked out.

To ensure that attendees are able to survive the Opening Ceremony during the real deal, organizers have installed wind shields and scattered portable gas heaters throughout the arena. There will be "heat respite" areas throughout, and spectators will receive a heating kit, complete with a blanket and several heating pads, when they enter the stadium.

However, this doesn't account for the fact that many guests will have to wait in line up to three and a half hours before they walk through the stadium doors, according to CBS Sports — and they won't be able to do that until they walk to the stadium from the parking lot, which is another 20 minutes away.

This should go without saying, but if you're attending the Opening Ceremony in Pyeongchang, bundle up. A lot.