The Great and Secret Salt Heist That Saved the Sochi Olympics

Illustration for article titled The Great and Secret Salt Heist That Saved the Sochi Olympics

Believe it or not, salt is an incredibly important tool when you're trying to keep a ski mountain running during a warm spell. Unfortunately, the organizers of the Sochi Games did not believe this fact, and late last week, that oversight almost ruined the Olympics.

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The Games were saved by a heist of sorts. Four months after Sochi officials ignored the recommendation from snow (and, as it happens, salt) expert Hans Pieren to order 19 tons of salt for the Winter Olympics, a number of events were at risk of being cancelled due to poor snow conditions. These are the events that benefit from an icy surface rather than the wet, snowy conditions that have prevailed at Sochi. Salt's useful because it can melt the topmost layer of snow, which then freezes again to create a more useful surface.

The New York Times describes the secret salt heist that saved the day in cinematic terms:

From there, a confidential international mission unspooled—a mountaintop "Ocean's Eleven"—that just may have prevented a major Olympic embarrassment. This Sochi salt accord involved a Swiss salt salesman working late into the night; a rerouted airplane that may or may not have come from Bulgaria; an Olympian turned salt savant; and Russians powerful enough to clear months of customs bureaucracy overnight.

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In the end, the organizers found a Swiss salt company that loaded an order of 24 tons of salt onto a plane that had rerouted from Bulgaria's capital (probably) to Sochi. Inconvenience aside, the salt shipment cost only $3,500, a drop in the bucket compared to the $50-plus billion already spent on the Games, the most expensive Olympics in history.

But, hey, think of it this way. Speed bumps like this make the Sochi Olympics special. Why, without the half-built hotel horror stories, the stray dog rescue missions, and the potentially deadly conditions of certain courses, this would just be another safe, boring, well-organized Olympic Games. Save that nonsense for Pyeongchang 2018! [NYT]

Image via AP

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DISCUSSION

19 tons? That's it?! 19 tons may sound like a lot if you're not used to dealing with bulk products like salt and aggregates but that's a drop in the bucket. Salt suppliers write off more than 19 tons a week to shrinkage. 19 tons is nothing when it comes to salt.

This is a 20 ton dump truck. Filling it would give you about 19 tons of salt (you lose some in the transfer, you don't typically get quite as much as you as for at a quarry, and you lose some to the ground it sits on).

Adam mentioned that the cost would be around $3,500. In the US, at the time it would have been ordered, that amount would have cost around $1,200. Now, with the crazy winter, you'd pay around $3,100. This isn't important to the story but I felt like sharing.

It's mind blowing that someone would nix this purchase. It's not just a drop in the bucket monetarily, that volume is a drop in the bucket as well.