The ski jumps at Canada Olympic Park (COP) will see their final flights this year, but winter sports lovers should not despair.
Winsport has announced that it will open an all-season freestyle ski and snowboard training park this summer. The park with help athletes train for the upcoming 2020 Winter X Games hosted in Calgary.
In a press statement released on Mar. 22, 2019, Winsport stated that the “[ski and snowboard] facilities will be used by thousands of athletes, including Freestyle Canada and Snowboard Canada, and will attract other freestyle participants from around the world”.
The all-season training facilities used by athletes training for the Winter X Games will help make Calgary a major hub for freestyle training.
But this new era of sport at Winsport has also left some athletes behind, mainly the competitive ski jumpers that are seeing their training facilities torn down this year. Winsport has also paused construction on the sliding track at COP, used for bobsled, skeleton, and luge; although they are hoping to reopen the track.
Mike Bodnarchuk is the chair of the Alberta Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Association, a group impacted by the closure of the jumps at COP.
Bodnarchuk first got involved with ski jumping when his daughter Natasha was introduced to the sport 12 years ago through a summer camp at COP. She is now on the national ski jumping team and won the Canadian Ski Jumping Championships last October.
“When you have jumps in your backyard and they’re taken away from you and now you have to go to Europe to get the same training, the costs are obviously significantly more,” he said.
Winsport confirmed it would be closing its ski jumping facilities in February. Regarding the closure, Bodnarchuk says that “Winsport has been singing the same song for at least ten years,” “Three years…maybe even going on five years ago, they basically held us over a barrel and said they would close them if we didn’t come up with $300,000 a year to cover the shortfall at their end.”
“This has been a battle that’s been going on for a long time. We’ve always disagreed with where [Winsport] is coming from,” he says.
For many Calgarians, including Bodnarchuk, the ‘88 Olympics were a great time of pride in the city and the ski jumps symbolize that. Fortunately, the iconic 90-meter ski jump adorned with Olympic rings will remain a part of the city skyline.
Dale Oviatt, director of communications at Winsport, describes the current situation at Winsport to be a “crossroads”.
“The loss of the 2026 Olympic bid was a little bit devastating to us. It would have been a silver bullet for Winsport,” he says. “It would have provided upwards of $100 million in capital funding, so [that would have meant] renovations to everything around here.”
Winsport is a not-for-profit organization that uses endowment funds: profit from the 1988 Olympics that has been put aside for Olympic facility use. However, while the endowment funds offset Winsport’s operating costs, they were not set up for capital, or investment and maintenance of facilities, according to Oviatt.
“When we were given the endowment funds, they said you’d have to be flexible and what we’re doing is being flexible. Ski jumping is not as popular, but freestyle sports are. So the masses are starting to lean towards that,” explains Oviatt.
“We’re not going to make a lot of money off of them, and that’s not the point. But they will be sustainable financially.”
Maintaining high-level sports facilities can seem daunting for taxpayers. However, an Economic Impact Analysis released by the City of Calgary in April 2017 stated that Winsport contributed $120 million to the city’s economy in 2016, including 1,200 jobs.
Although Calgary’s Olympic dreams are facing an indefinite pause, the Winter X Games which Calgary will host for three years beginning in 2020 offer exciting new opportunities for the city.
“Calgarians made their decision during the Olympic plebiscite, and we respect that decision. We continue to seek new opportunities to help Alberta communities host major sporting events, like the Mar. 13 announcement that Calgary has secured the exclusive rights to host the X Games,” said Ricardo Miranda, Alberta Minister of Culture and Tourism in a statement.
“Through these events, we continue to build on the legacy of the 1988 Winter Olympics and our reputation as a winter sport leader in Canada,” said Miranda.
Miranda announced in the same statement that some of the funding for the X Games will be used to build a slopestyle course at Canada Olympic Park. X Games halfpipe events will also be hosted at Canada Olympic Park.
Although most Calgarian’s won’t ever compete in these major events, Oviatt says it is still important to support winter sports facilities.
“As much as we support high-performance sports, it’s all about the families that come here and stay active and get to spend time together as a family. It’s an important part of the Calgary fabric and we want it to be here 30 years from now as well.”
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