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Sochi Slopes Seen from Space (Photo)

An image captured by NASA's EO-1 satellite on February 8, 2014, shows the slopes where the Sochi Olympic events are taking place. (Image credit: NASA)

While hockey players and figure skaters are competing inside Sochi's monumental new stadiums along the Black Sea coast, skiers and snowboarders are striving for Olympic glory farther inland in the Caucasus Mountains.

The Advanced Land Imager (ALI) aboard NASA's Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) snapped this image on Feb. 8, showing the steep snow-covered peaks that loom in the background of Sochi, according to NASA's Earth Observatory.

The Caucasus Mountains span part of southern Russia from the Caspian Sea westward to the Black Sea. The shot from space shows the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center — host of this year's downhill, snowboard and freestyle events — as well as the Laura Cross-country Ski and Biathalon Center and the town of Krasnaya Polyana. [Sochi Photos: Winter Olympics 2014]

The highest lift at Rosa Khutor leads to the top of the 7,612-foot-high (2,320 meters) Rosa Peak. The complex includes the treacherous men's downhill skiing track — an icy piste stretching over 2 miles long (3,495 m) and dropping 3,526 feet (1,075 m) in elevation — where racers hit speeds over 80 mph (128 km/h).

"If you are not totally focused and paying attention, this course can kill you," American skier Bode Miller told the BBC after a final training session in which 10 skiers wiped out. (The 36-year-old Miller went on to tie for bronze in the Alpine Skiing Men's Super-G event on Sunday, Feb. 16, earning his sixth Olympic medal.) 

Sochi has a humid, subtropical climate at its lower elevations. This past week, Olympic organizers were contending with warm weather (and some complaints about slushy conditions), with temperatures climbing above 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). A dense fog on Monday (Feb. 17) prompted organizers to postpone some events, like the men's snowboardcross and the men's 15-kilometer mass-start biathlon race, according to ESPN.

The region's high precipitation rates and steep slopes also make it susceptible to deadly avalanches. Ahead of the Sochi Games, engineers had installed a series of short, metal Gazex pipes, so that they would have the ability to trigger small avalanches occasionally and thus prevent the buildup of snow that can lead to catastrophic avalanches.

The Sochi Olympic Park Coastal Cluster, on the coast of the Black Sea, has also been captured in images from Earth-watching satellites. Astronauts orbiting the planet aboard the International Space Station even snapped a picture of the Sochi complex at night, showing the Olympic flame burning.

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Megan Gannon
Megan has been writing for Live Science and since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.