Weeks before the world’s best skiers and snowboarders descend on Zhangjiakou, a main site of the Beijing Winter Olympics, a dozen machines furiously churned out snow to cover the mountains they will race down.

The slopes were soon blanketed in white, and the canons didn’t stop there. A deafening sound continued for hours as they coated the rest of the grey landscape to complete a perfect snowy backdrop that could be broadcast around the world. The water droplets they sprayed into the air hovered like white smoke over the venue as freezing temperatures and chemicals helped turn them into ice.

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