SOCHI, Russia – Forget the parkas and stocking hats. Sunscreen and shades are the must-have items at the Sochi "Winter" Games.
The temperature soared to 63 degrees on Wednesday, prompting Olympic visitors to grab a nap on a bench outside a venue or hit the nearby beach for some impromptu sunbathing and even a dip in the Black Sea.
"I think it should always be like this," said Yuri Valyeyev, a resident of Bryansk, between Sochi and Moscow, who came here to work construction during the Olympics. "We are glad that it is held in Russia. Being a Russian I am very glad because everywhere in Russia is cold and here is warm."
And the heat just keeps on coming.
Forecasts call for highs of 63 on Thursday and Friday and 61 on Saturday before a gradual cool down to the low 50s on Sunday. While the warm temperatures are making life difficult for the skiers and snowboarders on the mountain in Krasnaya Polyana, they have provided a welcome relief to Russians, Canadians, Americans and other visitors who have endured harsh winters back home.
Just a few hundred yards (meters) from Olympic Park, visitors shed their clothes and lounged on the rocky shores of the Black Sea. Fishermen cast their lines into the water and Valyeyev jumped right in.
"The water, you can bear it," Valyeyev said with a shrug of his shoulders. "And it's normal for a Russian man."
For Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Olympic Committee, bringing the games to the subtropical climes of Sochi was as much an investment in the long-term prospects for this resort village as it was for any immediate payoff that the influx of visitors and money would bring. They saw it as an opportunity to establish Sochi as an attractive vacation destination for visitors from all over the world, and from the rest of Russia, in particular.
Seeing lush green grass blanket the mountain cluster of events rather than billowy snow may not be advantageous in the short run. But it could get others thinking about heading to Sochi when they need to break from another long, hard winter.
In Moscow, it was 35 degrees on Thursday and has been brutally cold for much of the season. It was 24 in New York on a day that another nasty storm was spreading across the Southeastern United States and threatening to cancel or postpone sporting events. And Sochi was considerably warmer than two cities it beat out for the 2014 Games — Pyeongchang, South Korea, 28, and Salzburg, Austria, 40.
"Yes, the weather is absolutely gorgeous, which is, of course, challenging," Sochi 2014 spokeswoman Aleksandra Kosterina said. But, she added: "Nothing we are not prepared for."
They have been storing snow on the mountain to use in case the existing pack melts too low, but Kosterina said on Wednesday they have yet to tap into it. And snow isn't the only precious commodity up there. Officials have been using salt to firm up the soft, slushy snow on several of the courses, and the technique's effectiveness on the halfpipe on Tuesday night has created a minor feeding frenzy on the mountain's salt reserves.
"All other disciplines now want to have this salt because they see what is doable in the halfpipe," said Guenter Hujara, men's Alpine race referee.
But Hujara warned Alpine coaches not to overuse the supply on their warm-up courses, instead saving it for the competition runs as the week goes on.
"We have a great team there working together with the federations to ensure that the tracks are ready," Kosterina said.
Back in the coastal cluster, where the arena events like hockey, curling, speedskating and figure skating take place, the Canadian women's hockey wore shorts and short sleeves while warming up outside before a game against the Americans. Those famous Sochi stray dogs sprawled out on the boardwalk as palm trees swayed in the warm breeze and Moscow resident Alexei Shabanov, on the beach in a T-shirt and shorts, chuckled at the motto for the Sochi Games — "Hot. Cool. Yours."
"One can drive just one hour to ski and to freeze," Shabanov said through an interpreter, "and come back to get warm on the beach."