Olympics: Environmentalists groan over Bird's Nest snow park

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The Independent Online

Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium has been transformed into a snowy winter wonderland for tourists, stirring anger among environmentalists over the venue's water use, state media said Tuesday.

Ten artificial snow machines have turned the showcase Olympic venue into a park that will host the "Happy Snow and Ice Season" carnival for two months from Saturday, the Beijing Daily reported.

The snow festival boasts a 5,130-square-metre (57,000 square feet) carpet of man-made snow up to one metre thick covering the stadium floor and sitting beneath a towering fake mountain, it said.

For a 180-yuan (26-dollar) entrance fee, visitors will be able to ice skate, ski, snowboard and enjoy dog sled races, the paper added.

Up to 16,000 cubic metres of water are needed to make the snow, a prospect that has environmentalists howling at a time that Beijing is suffering from severe water shortages worsened by an ongoing drought, the Global Times said.

"Man-made snow or ice is a waste of water and energy, especially in urban areas," the paper cited Liu Shuang, a Greenpeace activist, as saying.

"It does not send a positive message when China is dealing with climate and energy issues."

The snow festival is one of the first events at the 526-million-dollar Bird's Nest since the stadium was placed under government management in August in an effort to stem financial losses.

Annual operating costs for the stadium total 70 million yuan (10 million dollars), or about 200,000 yuan a day, earlier reports said.

Only a handful of events have taken place at the stadium since the Olympics, including an Italian football match, a concert by Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan, and an eight-day run of Zhang Yimou's staging of the opera "Turandot".

Stadium costs have been paid from revenues generated by visitor tours. Attendance peaked at 50,000 people a day immediately following the Games, but has recently dwindled to just several thousand a day.