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Washington Man's Olympic Dream: Making Snow In Sochi

Sam Morrison
Wenatchee's Jon Wax climbs a snow making tower to perform maintenance ahead of the 2014 Sochi Olympics. In the background is the finish line for downhill ski racing at the Rosa Khutor venue.

Winter Olympic hopefuls from the Northwest are learning this month who will get to go to the Sochi Games next month. One snow making expert from Washington state is already there.

This Wenatchee man arrived at the Russian resort zone nearly two months ago to help ensure a snow-covered Olympics. His regular job is snow-making manager at the Mission Ridge ski area.

Jon Wax got the temp job making the white stuff for the 2014 Winter Olympics through industry connections. He's with an international team of snow making experts and technicians in Sochi. Wax calls it "a chance of a lifetime."

"It's the same equipment that Mission Ridge uses," he says. "It's just a much, much larger scale. Many more machines, massive pumping capacity. It's really pretty humbling. When it's running, it's quite incredible."

If you hear a touch of tiredness in his voice, it may be because Wax works making snow 12 hours on, 12 hours off with one rest day per week. The 42-year-old says this assignment has had its wild moments and close calls.

"Being out in unfamiliar territory on snowmobiles in snow storms with low visibility, there's never really lack of excitement," says Wax. "But that's why we love it. That's why we do it."

Wax says the international team has mostly achieved its goal of covering the competition venues with "150 percent" of the needed snow. But just like here at home, Mother Nature has been fickle in the Sochi region this winter.

Wax worries about warm weather and untimely rain.

"Right now the games could go off, but we're looking to produce some more if given the opportunity - just as insurance."

Wax predicts once people see the games unfold, "they'll be impressed."

He'll be watching the events on TV just like the rest of us. Wax says he expects to be sent home shortly before the games begin provided the snowpack looks good at that point.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.