February 17, 2018 / 4:38 AM / in 4 months

Wind, snow and frozen phones: How to survive the coldest Olympics

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea - Before the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics began on Feb 9, Magnus Strom and his Reuters colleague Sylvain Marchandise, both experienced skiers, spent five days on a frigid mountain, skiing to locations on the alpine skiing course. They laid hundreds of meters of cable a day so Reuters journalists can send pictures and text stories down from the slopes to editors in the media center.

Reuters field specialist Sylvain Marchandise installs a cable on a platform overlooking the start of the giant slalom course in Pyeongchang, South Korea, January 28, 2018. Picture taken January 28, 2018. REUTERS/Magnus Strom

The weather was a bone-chilling, minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit).

“The cables can just snap because it’s so cold,” Strom said.

The Pyeongchang games in South Korea are predicted to be the coldest since the 1994 games in Lillehammer, Norway, made tougher by strong winds battering the host city in the mountains. Gusts of up to 39 knots (72 kilometers per hour) caused several alpine events to be postponed during the first week.

Snowboarding - Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics - Men's Slopestyle Finals - Phoenix Snow Park - Pyeongchang, South Korea - February 11, 2018 - Spectators wait in the cold. REUTERS/Mike Blake

(Graphic – Winter Olympics temperatures - tmsnrt.rs/2joGGwO)

“These are by far the harshest conditions we have worked in,” said Andrew Edgington, team leader of 12 Reuters technicians who laid more than 14,000 meters of cable at indoor and outdoor venues across the sprawling Olympic site. “We have had some staff outside for over 12 hours in freezing temperatures.”

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At the Olympic Stadium, technicians in safety harnesses climbed up to the open roof and onto catwalks to install robotic cameras for covering the opening ceremony. The team also set up outdoor positions for photographers covering snowboarding, freestyle skiing, ski jump, sliding and Nordic events.

“This is very much a group effort by the technical team,” Edgington said.

For journalists working outdoors, especially at the ski and sliding events, Reuters provided heavy-duty blue parkas with the Reuters logo. Everyone also had a list of must-have items that included thermal underwear, fleece clothing, and insulated, waterproof boots with soles that could grip ice and snow.  

Ink in pens can freeze when the mercury plummets, so all reporters working outdoors are equipped with pencils and pocket-sized notepads, still the most reliable method of note-taking. Fingerless gloves are one’s friend because it is hard to grip a pencil wearing ski gloves.

Reporters also keep hand warmers in their coat pockets, not for their hands but for their phones. A phone battery can drain in minutes when the temperature drops below minus 25 degrees Celsius.

Reporting by Darren Schuettler; Editing by Lauren Young and Toni Reinhold

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