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2023 FISU World Winter University Games launch at Lake Placid with a ‘Save Winter’ theme

January 11 2023

As the winter edition of the FISU World University Games begins this week in Lake Placid, New York, participants and spectators will gather to compete—but they will also come together to address some of the critical challenges facing winter sports across the world.

2023 FISU World Winter University Games launch at Lake Placid with a ‘Save Winter’ theme

The 2023 Games will be the first in FISU history to put sustainability front and centre: the Save Winter movement will promote sustainability initiatives across the event, while the 2023 FISU World Conference will provide a forum to discuss the intersection between climate change and winter sports. FISU are a recent signatory to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework and the Race to Zero and also focused on sustainability at their recent annual congress.

Games to be held at a critical juncture

The 31st Winter World University Games, which is the largest multi-sport winter athletic event held at the collegiate/university level, will take place in Lake Placid over eleven days from January 12th – January 22nd 2023. The games will include competitions in twelve winter sports, including ice hockey, speed skating, curling, and alpine skiing, and will see collegiate/university athletes from over fifty countries take part. The Lake Placid games will be the first FISU event to take place since the pandemic, after the 2021 edition of the games, which was due to take place in Lucerne, Switzerland, in December 2021, was cancelled.

The Games comes at a time of increasing concern for the future of winter sports. As rising temperatures affect the amount of snowfall, ski resorts have been forced to close or rely on artificial snow. These sorts of technological interventions require large amounts of water and energy, and create climate impacts of their own. Record-breaking warm weather in the Alps this winter, which forced 50% of French slopes being to close, has sparked fresh concern about the impact of climate change. The 2023 Games’ focus on sustainability, and the opportunity to discuss key topics, could not be more timely.

Saving the season of snow: sustainable planning and event management

The team behind the 2023 Games is aiming to set a new high standard for environmental sustainability in international collegiate/university sport. Through Save Winter, the team are aiming to hold an eco-friendly event, from planning and operations to production. They will also provide educational opportunities through the 2023 FISU World Conference, held alongside the competition, which will explore how climate change impacts winter sports across the globe.

The operations and production of the event itself have been carefully planned in order to reduce the inevitable environmental impact. With a focus on using innovative technologies to address key operational and logistical challenges, the team, led by Head of Sustainability and Legacy Karlan Jessen, have introduced initiatives to address issues including waste management, energy consumption, and reducing carbon emissions.

The Games will kick off with a torch relay followed by the first ever first carbon-free cauldron lighting, powered by Hydro-Quebec.

The custom-made torch and cauldron use LED lighting, removing the need for any flame or combustion, and will make the entire torch presentation carbon-free. Meanwhile, the games will be reducing and mitigating the event’s carbon footprint by using hybrid and electric vehicles and substituting generators with renewable electric batteries wherever possible. The organisers have also placed an emphasis on waste reduction, instituting tri-sort waste systems, and event organisers will work with TerraCycle to responsibly dispose of hard-to-recycle materials after the event comes to a close.

As with all large-scale international events, the carbon footprint extends well beyond the event itself, as athletes fly in from all corners of the globe. To address this, organisers are working with One Tree Planted to address the impact athlete travel, and the initiative aims to plant 26,500 trees in Washington and Oregon. The athletes themselves will also have the opportunity to plant an oak acorn, which will be gifted as trees to the indigenous people of the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation, who are working on reforesting the red oak tree, a species which has almost entirely disappeared from their forests. Numerous volunteering opportunities are also available for students from around the state, increasing student engagement with issues including food waste, sustainability, and events and media management. At the Olympic Center, a ‘Climate Stories’ booth will be available for participants to record their own stories of climate change.

Developments in technology provide hope for future

The 31st edition of the Games has inadvertently benefitted from the longer-than-usual interval since the last event, which allowed time for cutting-edge technologies, such as the use of electric generators, to be developed and become more widely available. There are, however, still many challenges facing organisers of large events, particularly those that take place in winter: freezing temperatures, for example, can pose a challenge for wide-scale use of electric generators, particularly around the broadcast compounds. Meanwhile, logistical difficulties, such as the availability of electric buses and the limited charging infrastructure in place, is also a challenge for reducing reliance on gas engines.

Just as this event benefitted from the passing of time, event organisers hope that technology, and the infrastructure used to support it, will continue to develop in leaps and bounds. This will pave the way for fully electronic transportation, and for electric generators to provide energy across all areas of event. By focusing on critical issues like transport and energy, the event organisers hope to provide a blueprint for future Games to build on.

2023 FISU World Conference – an opportunity for education

Alongside the games, the FISU World Conference, launching on Thursday 12th January, will provide an arena for discussion, collaboration, and education on all issues relating to sustainability, the environment, and winter sports. The panels and talks, led by over fifty expert speakers, will be open for both in-person attendance and online, providing the opportunity for a truly global conversation. Topics covered will include climate impacts on athletes and sports; the future of snow; and designing the future of international sports events. The conference will also offer activities including a ‘Cross-Country Ski with a Scientist’.

By engaging a broad audience against the backdrop of an event that has emphasised sustainability, the FISU World Conference will be a critical opportunity for athletes, scientists, journalists, and thought leaders to come together to properly address the challenges facing winter sports across the world.

While the competitions and conference take place, the event team will be evaluating and reporting on key data. Organisers will keep track of the total miles driven; the total number of air miles accrued; the total amount of food waste; and the total tonnage of garbage. They will also keep a keen eye on conference attendance. With this key data available after the event, organisers of future FISU Games will have a clear benchmark from which to measure future progress.

Looking to the future

 In all, the 2023 FISU Games and World Conference will provide a critical occasion for those invested in winter sports to come together and identify the challenges of the future. After the upheavals of the pandemic, and amid growing concerns about the threat of climate change on winter sports, Lake Placid 2023 will be a welcome opportunity to transparently evaluate future challenges and possibilities for change. Innovative technology and dedicated sustainability teams will be a key asset as the industry looks to adapt. If future events can build on the blueprint created in 2023, the hope is that winter sport will be preserved for generations to come.


For further information on the FISU World Conference click on the link below


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    Read moreBethany White