There will be no sliding sports at WinSport’s Canada Olympic Park for the foreseeable future after the demolition of the first five corners of the Olympic track commenced this week.
Former bobsled, skeleton and luge athletes from across the country joined members of the Calgary community at the Olympic Track on Thursday to showcase the positive impact the facility has had.
A news release described the facility as a “medal-generating factory for the sliding sports over the last three decades,” noting it has kindled the Olympic dream for many, including athletes who relocated to Calgary to “make those dreams a reality.”
In February, WinSport announced the closing of the track. Despite receiving $17 million in provincial and federal funding, WinSport was still $8 million short in funds needed to renovate the track.
“The sliding track at WinSport was built for the 1988 Olympics. It’s more than 30 years old and at the end of its lifecycle. It needs a completely new refrigeration system and other upgrades,” said the president and CEO of WinSport, Barry Heck.
WinSport said it was counting on a Calgary bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games to raise the funds to upgrade the track’s refrigeration system and other upgrades, but Calgarians voted against it in a plebiscite last November.
Heck said Thursday at a press conference at Olympic Park that WinSport remains committed to rejuvenating the track as part of a larger, $100-million capital renewal at COP.
He said WinSport will receive an indication by the end of this fiscal year as to as to where things are at in the process.
“We’re going through a planning process at WinSport where we have to determine the end of our original legacy.… We need a renewal and we’re working on various strategies and financing options so we can continue to operate this wonderful place for the next 30-plus years.”
He said the removal of the top section of the track has always been part of the renovation plan.
“What we’re really doing is just a portion of the of the realignment, so taking out that section was always part of the plan. That section of the track will never be used again under any scenario,” he said.
He said WinSport was able to get a $250,000 provincial grant for that demolition because COP has the rights to the X Games from 2020 to 2022.
“It’s all tied in to some funding that we received in order to expand and allow us to construct a slopestyle course and to modernize some of the other aspects of our freestyle skiing terrain,” he said.
Heck said the reconstruction also allows WinSport to hold events like slopestyle World Cups, which they will be hosting this year.
Tim Farstad, executive director of the Canadian Luge Association, said he attended the COP event on Thursday to alert the public to these track changes.
“The track is not open for the first time in 30 years, and it’s concerning for us as sliding sports,” he said.
“What we knew back then is that the track was not going to open unless the money was in place and that a plan was in place to open it. It’s now eight months later and nothing’s changed.”
He said right now his athletes are training in Whistler, B.C., and that if Calgary’s track officially closes, they would have to rework their whole recruitment system.
“This has been a hotbed for athletes because it’s so close to the track for people living here,” he said. “It’s easier to recruit and there’s been a culture of luge and bobsleigh and skeleton here,” he said.
Athletes say proximity to post-secondary education, employment and an international airport make it a preferable training base over Whistler, where accommodation is expensive and an airport is a two-hour drive away.
One of the reasons Kim McRae retired this year was because the two-time Olympic luger felt she couldn’t combine nursing school with the extra travel she would have to do without the use of the Calgary track.
Justin Kripps, a Canadian bobsled pilot who would normally be testing equipment this time of year at Calgary’s track, said many international athletes come here and train and spend money in the Calgary economy.
“Whistler, it’s just not feasible to stay in a ski chalet for two months,” he said.