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1 September 2017

Australia’s Perisher Resort Extends Ski Season Following Heavy August Snowfall

When thinking of Australia, snow-topped mountains and winter sports are likely not the first thing to spring to mind. However, Australia is in fact home to countless winter sports enthusiasts and a multitude of ski resorts. Easily the largest ski resort in Australia is known as Perisher, which also encompasses the Blue Cow, Smiggin Holes and Guthega ski areas.

In a recent statement that is sure to delight the nation’s winter sports enthusiasts, the Perisher ski resort announced that they will be extending their ski season for another week, as favourable levels of snowfall have led to some of the best skiing conditions seen in the area for years.

The resort-issued statement, given on September 1st, reads as follows:

“On the back of over 2 metres of snow falling through the month of August and plenty more snow forecast for next week  we are extending the season  through to the end of the New South Wales School Holidays.  The four-resort areas of Perisher, Blue Cow, Smiggin Holes and Guthega are all looking superb …And with the most amount of snow since 2012 it’s the best in years.”

Although the slopes are now in fine condition, Australia saw something of a bumpy start to the ski season. While early snowfall in May allowed many of the country’s resorts to open ahead of schedule, snowfall through June and July was somewhat lacklustre, which saw the base covering on the slopes begin to dwindle.

August provided the resorts with a saving grace, as evidenced by this recent decision to extend the season. The month saw heavy snowfall on at least two separate occasions, and the country’s leading resorts now have bases around the 1.5 metres mark; a very good figure in Australian skiing.

With another 40cm of snow expected to fall this weekend, the slopes should be in superb condition right through to the close of this year’s now-extended season.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for the written word. Currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor, his time at many UK festivals has taught him the importance of keeping warm.

PyeongChang Declared ‘Ready’ for 2018 Winter Olympic Games Following IOC Evaluation

Between the 29th and 31st of August, the Coordination Commission of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) made their ninth and final visit to PyeongChang ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics, which as I’m sure you’re aware will be held in the South Korean city. The purpose of the trip was to assess PyeongChang’s ‘readiness’ to host the games; an assessment the city seems to have passed with flying colours, according to a recently issued press release.

“Over the course of our three-day evaluation visit, PyeongChang’s readiness to host the Olympic Winter Games 2018 was highlighted,” said IOC Coordination Commission Chair Gunilla Lindberg. “We saw first-hand the advances that have been made on venues and infrastructure, as well as heard updates on plans to further engage with Olympic fans. While details must continue to be refined in the coming months, it was evident that the Organising Committee is well on its way to delivering successful Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.”

All permanent venues are now either complete or nearing completion, and so the focus in PyeongChang is now shifting towards promotional activities with the second phase of ticket sales starting next week, and the Olympic Torch Relay due to begin in around two months.

The President of the PyeongChang 2018 Organising Committee, Lee Hee-beom, commented, “We are now just 162 days away from the start of the Olympic Winter Games and working to put the important finishing touches to the Games. We are listening, and we are responding to all of our stakeholders and taking all the feedback and advice from the sessions this week. We want to make these the best Winter Games ever and showcase Korea to the world as a global leader in sports and as the new hub for winter sports in Asia.”

During their time in PyeongChang the Coordination Commission also visited the Gangneung Olympic Village, which will provide a home to around 1,000 international athletes over the course of the games. The commission were particularly impressed with the legacy credential of the Olympic villages, as all of the apartments have already been sold off for residential use following the games’ conclusion. Commission members also visited various other legacy sites, such as the new high-speed train station at Jinbu.

The final stop on the venue tour saw the Coordination Commission being joined by pupils of the nearby Gangneung Haeram Middle School, who spent their time teaching the commission members how to construct a welcome gift that Olympic Winter athletes and accredited media will receive when they check into their respective villages, in between taking selfies with Korean Olympic figure skating gold medallist Yuna Kim, who joined the delegation for the tour.

“You can feel that Games time is quickly approaching,” said Kim. “With the IOC and PyeongChang Organising Committee having worked so hard together, I firmly believe in the success of the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. As for me, I will continue to do my best as an honorary ambassador of PyeongChang 2018, and help people engage with the Games until the time of the Closing Ceremony.”

On a closing note, Lindberg also piled praise upon the local authorities who collaborated to make the city ready for the games.

“The collaboration from all levels of the Korean Government and Gangwon Province, including Republic of Korea President Moon Jae-in, who is an ambassador for the Games, has been vital in the delivery of the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang,” Lindberg said. “All of the delivery partners have played, and will continue to play, a key role in the success of the Games.”

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor as he continues to expand his horizons.

31 August 2017

The Dawn of Energy-Generating Fabrics & Clothing is Fast Approaching

We’ve spoken before about intuitive technologies being incorporated into clothing, whether that be to provide extra warmth or allow for extra functionality such as fitness-tracking software, but one aspect that none of those previous articles addressed is how exactly to power these technologies. Fortunately, more than one team of researchers are currently hard at work seeking a solution.

Researchers throughout the US and beyond are currently exploring the potential of fabrics which generate their own supply of electricity, cutting out the need for bulky battery packs and the potential of forgetting to charge a device upon which you rely.

Coiled twistron yarns as seen through a microscope   - Img: University of Texas at Dallas
One such effort is being made by a team of researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas, headed up by UT professor of chemistry Dr Ray Baughman. Dr Baughman’s team are currently experimenting with the development of “twistron” yarns, a form of energy-harvesting yarn created from carbon nanotubes which measure 10,000 times thinner than a human hair. The tubes are bound into larger yarns before being twisted into a tight coil; when two of these “twistron” yarns are placed side-by-side and then stretched, a small electrical current is generated.

“There's basically no game in town which gives comparable power output to our yarns,” Dr Baughman told NBC News.

In a recent test of the yarn’s capabilities, documented in the journal Science on August 25th, a tight-fitting shirt containing two short pieces of twistron yarn produced 16 millivolts of electricity each time its wearer inhaled. While that may not seem like a lot – a typical mobile phone for example uses around 300x that voltage – the test effectively demonstrates that these technologies do have potential with further development, as they already provide enough power for small tasks such as sending wireless information for use with other connected technologies.

Following the publication of the research, Dr Baughman is now fielding enquiries from various medical equipment manufacturers.

As I mentioned before however, Dr Baughman’s team aren’t the only ones working towards energy-generating fabrics and clothing. For example a paper published in September 2016 in the journal Nature Energy documented the efforts of a team of researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who successfully created a woven fabric which contains a series of solar cells and miniaturised triboelectric generators. So far only small pieces of the fabric have been created, but the research aptly demonstrates its potential.

Another notable example comes from Dr Cary Pint, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Dr Pint and his team are taking a rather different approach, utilising incredibly thin sheets nanosheets of phosphorus to generate power as detailed in the journal ACS Energy Letters on August 11th. Using these sheets, which are just a few atoms thick, the team have successfully created a prototype which is capable of generating up to 40 milliwatts of power per square foot. Dr Pint is now working with fabric specialists to find an effective way of integrating nanosheets technology into clothing.

Whichever approach ultimately wins out, energy-generating clothing is certainly on the rise. It may take a while for any of these technologies to reach the shops, but you can be fairly sure that day will come eventually.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for the written word. Currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor, his time at many UK festivals has taught him the importance of keeping warm.

Pen Hadow’s Arctic Mission Highlights Sea Ice Decline & Plight of Local Ecosystems

A few weeks back on the 14th of August, renowned British explorer Pen Hadow led two 15-metre-long yachts, the Bagheera and Snow Dragon II, out of the port of Nome, Alaska, marking the beginning of the Arctic Mission.

The Arctic Mission is the name given to a scientific expedition led by Hadow which aims to demonstrate the severity of sea ice decline in the Arctic Circle and the resulting threat to local wildlife and ecosystems. It has been described by some as “one of the most significant voyages of the 21st century” due to its ecological ambitions.

The team set out to achieve this goal by sailing as far north in the international waters of the Arctic as the retreating sea ice would allow, their final location serving as evidence of the true scope of the problem. Along the way they documented the local wildlife, incorporating everything from iconic Arctic animals such as Orcas, Beluga Whales, Polar Bears, and Narwhals, right through to plant life and even bacterial life forms.

The expedition recently arrived at its farthest north location, mooring the yachts to an ice floe located 590 nautical miles (678.5 statute miles) from the North Pole on the 29th of August at the local Alaskan time of 22:04:12. This marks the farthest north any vessel has ever reached without the support of an icebreaker ship.

The mooring was initially made in order to conduct a 24-hour marine science survey while continuing to drift along with the ice, but following a meeting of the four skippers (two are assigned to each yacht), the decision was made to head south as continuing to push northward would considerably increase the risks to the expedition while providing very limited scientific reward. As such, the team opted to retreat back to an area in the vicinity of 79 degrees 30 minutes north, where the sea ice is far less concentrated.

Throughout the expedition, the Arctic Mission team has as previously stated endeavoured to conduct an extensive oceanographic, wildlife and ecosystem research programme. This was headed up by Tim Gordon of the University of Exeter, and included work on acoustic ecology, copepod distributions and physiology, microplastic pollution surveying, inorganic carbon chemistry, seabird range expansion and microbial DNA sequencing. His scientific findings will be released following comprehensive data analysis and formal publication in peer-reviewed journals in 2018/19.

While we must wait for the full results of the aforementioned research programme, the expedition has already demonstrated one of its primary points of focus: that commercial fishing and shipping vessels can now access and exploit a new, unexplored and vulnerable ocean region on the planet, the Central Arctic Ocean, due to the melting of its sea-ice cover.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for the written word. Currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor, his time at many UK festivals has taught him the importance of keeping warm.

30 August 2017

Developer behind Great Blakenham’s SnOasis Winter Sports Resort Insists Project Will Continue

Back in 2008, developer Godfrey Spanner of Onslow Suffolk applied for and was subsequently granted outline planning consent for a massive indoor winter sports facility located in the town of Great Blakenham, Suffolk. This consent was renewed in 2011, but there remains little sign of tangible progress on the development.

An artist's impression of the SnOasis Winter Sports Resort   - Img: Onslow Suffolk/SnOasis
The former quarry site was first acquired by Onslow Suffolk way back in 2001 with the intention of constructing a £300mwinter sports facility incorporating an indoor ski slope, ice rink, hotels, shops, and restaurants. The developers even went so far as to submit a Reserved Matters Application for the proposed resort in order to safeguard outline planning consent. This application was verified by panning offers at Mid Suffolk District Council (MSDC) last November, but as the final details of the application continue to be lodged and new concept art is being released, the council are still pressing for extra details concerning the controversial development.

With many details still to be worked out and some strongly-voiced opposition to the development as a whole from residents and local representatives alike, some have begun to describe Spanner’s ambitious plans as a ‘fantasy’ - a title he insists in undeserved. The project has been hit hard by setbacks and delays since its initial conception, attributed by Spanner to a combination of the ill-effects of the recession, planning technicalities, and ecological issues such as the presence of newts and crayfish at the site of the development, but he continues to press forward nonetheless.

Speaking recently to the East Anglian Daily Times, Spanner was asked if he honestly still thought the project would be seen through to completion, to which he replied with the following:

“Absolutely - I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever. I have waited 16 years for this position and I’m still here and I shall be here until it is finished. But this should have all been done and dusted a long time ago.

“I’m not ever going to give up. If I was going to give up, I would have done so several years ago. I’m here just to see this completed.

“Having spent most minutes of my life since 2001 in getting to this target, there is no way that I’m not going to achieve it.”

An artist's impression of the indoor ski slope at the SnOasis Winter Sports Resort   - Img: Onslow Suffolk/SnOasis
The rise in expected costs from £300m up to £400m, along with yet another push-back of the completion date this time to 2021, have both contributed to the growing belief that the proposed development may be more grounded in fantasy than reality, a criticism with which Mr Spanner highly disagrees.

Mr Spanner told the EADT, “They have been saying that for 15 years and my answer is the same: I don’t think it is a fantasy. There are theme parks and developments going on all over the world.

“In today’s money, £400m is not a huge sum, and there is a desperate requirement for it. Our winter sports athletes have no facilities in this country at all.

“The majority of local people have always supported as and I think most of them still so – but the same old names pop up who don’t want to see it.”

As hinted at by Mr Spanner in the above statement, the proposed resort is not without its opposition. For example Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, said the project does not appear to have a strong enough business model to attract investment.

He said of the SnOasis development, “I’ve always been very sceptical about SnOasis. I’ve never felt that Great Blakenham is the right place for such a project and if there was a strong economic case for it, then it would have happened by now.

“It doesn’t appear to have a strong enough case to attract investment ­- even in the last five years which has seen a strong economy in East Anglia.

“That area is an area which does have a need for community facilities but in my opinion, the land should be put to better use. The reality is that despite five years of a strong economy in East Anglia, he [Godfrey Spanner] has not been able to deliver this project.

“I’ve have always felt that the idea of a snow dome in the middle of the Suffolk countryside is flawed.”

A spokeswoman for Mid Suffolk District Council commented on the matter, “Following public consultation on additional information which has been submitted, Mid Suffolk is continuing to work with the developer and consultees to resolve matters which have arisen through this process.

“We currently have an extension of time until August 31, 2017, and it’s likely a further extension for the determination of this application will need to be discussed with the developer.”

So, what do you think? Would Great Blakenham benefit from the construction of such a pricey attraction, or would the funds be put to better use if invested in other areas?

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for the written word. Currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor, his time at many UK festivals has taught him the importance of keeping warm.

Arctic Rowers’ Expedition Cut Short, Leaving Them Stranded

A couple of weeks ago, we told you about the group of athletes rowing 2000km across the Arctic Ocean to raise money for the construction of a school in the Himalayas. At the time of writing, their venture was going successfully with seven world records already broken and the group running ahead of schedule. However, since then they’ve hit a sea of trouble which has ultimately brought their expedition to a premature end and left them stranded on an island for the foreseeable future.

The problems started not long after we first wrote about the Polar Row venture, with several of the group using social media to update followers on the situation as it happened. Due to the solar-powered nature of their equipment, the crew were left without navigational aids to keep them on course. Rowing conditions in the Arctic were already fairly severe with no sign that anything was likely to improve, so the group decided to veer away from their intended path and head towards the island of Jan Mayen.

This island, located between Norway and Greenland, is only inhabited on a part time basis by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and Armed Forces, but the Polar Row team were fortunate enough to be welcomed by them with open arms. With the availability of beds, warmth and food, they were able to recuperate and have a think about whether or not they wanted to see their voyage through to the end. After several of the rowers chose to pull out, the expedition was officially brought to an end.

“It’s an easy decision because I want to get home to my family,” wrote Alex Gregory, Olympic champion and one of the Polar Row crew members, on his Twitter page. “Some will see that as a failure, some will see that as not finishing the project, not reaching the ultimate goal, but I do not. I see this as a massive success. A success far greater in fact than I was expecting.”

The athletes were fortunate enough to reach the Arctic ice shelf before their power supplies ran low, meaning the latitude for the world record they’d already set as the first crew to row so far north was extended. It was only once they’d started travelling southwards to Iceland that they encountered the problems that led to them calling time on their voyage.

In response to the decision to cut their venture short, Carlo Facchino wrote on his Facebook page that:

“A successful expedition is also one where everyone goes home safe and in good health to their family and friends […] our expedition now comes to an end having achieved the ultimate in success.”

How long it will take for the rowers to return home is currently unknown as travel to and from Jan Mayen is almost impossible. Private airplanes aren’t allowed to land on the island so the crew are waiting for a ship to pass by that they can hop aboard.

According to Gregory’s Twitter, there may be one such boat arriving in a few days, although they won’t know if there will be space for them until it arrives. For now, they’ll just have to wait it out on the island and let their accomplishments sink in. They may have had to cut their journey short, but eleven world records out of twelve is definitely something worth celebrating. 

James Darvill

James is a passionate scriptwriter and reluctant poet with a talent for the dystopian. His love for cold weather sports and hiking in the winter gives him the enthusiasm for writing about keeping warm.

29 August 2017

Mt Buller Resort in Victoria, Australia to Become Official Winter Olympic Training Centre

At the end of several months of extensive planning and negotiations, the Mt Buller resort village of eastern Victoria, Australia is set to become home to an official Olympic Training Centre, cementing the ski resort’s legacy as a hub for the nation’s winter sports enthusiasts. The training centre’s creation is the result of a landmark partnership which brings together the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia, Ski & Snowboard Australia, Buller Ski Lifts, and the Mt Buller & Mt Stirling Resort Management Board.

The resort already has something of a reputation for creating competition-level athletes, producing more Australian Olympic, World Championship, and World Cup Champions than any other resort in Australia. The Olympic Training Centre will cement Mt Buller as the Victorian home of Aerial and Mogul Skiing for the next 20 years, providing training programs recognised by the Australian Olympic Committee in the only resort in the country to offer Olympic athletes somewhere to live and train through both day and night.

Renovations and upgrades being made in preparation for the opening of the official Olympic Training Centre include the construction of on-mountain accommodation for up to 20 athletes, additional snow-making facilities/equipment, an indoor aerobic facility, dedicated moguls site, and an upgraded aerials site. Lights will also be installed throughout the centre to allow for training to continue through the night.

Formal contracts will reportedly be finalised in the coming months, with the centre due to open in time for winter 2018.

Geoffrey Henke AO, Chair, Olympic Winter Institute of Australia, said of the historic partnership, “Winter sports have had remarkable success over the past decade, and now sit only behind Swimming and Sailing on current Olympic Sport high performance rankings. We are delighted to announce this partnership with Mt Buller to help more Australians reach the pinnacle of winter sport success for years to come.”

Dean Gosper, Chair, Ski & Snowboard Australia also commented, “Mt Buller has always been an important partner for our sport and in particular Aerial Skiing. We are delighted to partner with the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia and Mt Buller to extend their athlete training programs. We also welcome the long term vision of Mt Buller in supporting winter sport and are pleased to be extending the rights to host the Victorian Interschools at Mt Buller.”

Meanwhile Andy Evans, Director, Mt Buller Mt Stirling Resort Management Board said “This is wonderful news for athletes, parents, children and visitors to Mt Buller. Young skiers will be able to watch their heroes train right beside the Village Square, then follow their dreams from ski school to the Victorian Interschools, involvement in Mt Buller Sports Clubs, and then on to an elite training program – all right here at Mt Buller. And the FIS dual moguls course will also be open to all skiers when it’s not required for training.”

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for the written word. Currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor, his time at many UK festivals has taught him the importance of keeping warm.