For an Olympics lacking its traditional pageantry, the National Cross-Country Skiing Center, in Zhangjiakou, might be the epicenter. It sits at the foot of dry brown mountains, a tongue of fake snow studded by infant trees and giant light towers. And it is cold. During the men’s and women’s skiathlon that opened these Games, it was 10 degrees, with wind blowing so hard across the barren, fan-less land that skiers had troubles even planting their poles straight. They wore moleskin tape to guard their faces and bulky gloves that menaced their ski exchange. The sand-like, squeaky snow yielded almost no glide; even the best in the world looked human.