Sliders dismayed over Calgary track reno money funnelled to public day lodge

CALGARY — Provincial government money set aside to renovate the sliding track at Calgary's Canada Olympic Park has been redirected into the park's commercial side to a public day lodge.

The sliding track that's been the home of national luge, bobsled and skeleton athletes since the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary was closed in 2019 awaiting a $25-million renovation.

The provincial government committed $10 million and the federal government another $7 million to the renovation costs. WinSport, which oversees the park, had to come up with the remaining $8 million.

COP combines public recreational facilities with high-performance training and competition spaces.

Alberta's government announced this week a commitment of $17.5 million — matched by the federal government — toward a renovation of the day lodge at the base of the ski slopes that will cost between $39 million and $43 million.

WinSport confirmed $10 million of the provincial funds came from money originally earmarked for the sliding track.

"With the time frame to use the $10 million from the Government of Alberta set to expire, there was no prospect of securing the funding and completing the project in the required time frame," WinSport president and CEO Barry Heck said Thursday in a statement.

"In an effort to keep the funds for capital projects at COP, we worked with the Government of Alberta to reallocate the $10 million to the day lodge project, WinSport’s highest capital priority, instead of requiring us to return the funds."

Canadians have won 13 Olympic medals in sliding sports since 1988, including six gold. Justin Kripps piloted Canada to two-man bobsled gold in 2018 and four-man bronze this year in Beijing.

Alex Gough, who earned Canada's first Olympic medal in luge in 2018 and is now Luge Canada's president, was dismayed at the redirection of money away from the track without notice from WinSport.

"No one from WinSport even had the decency to reach out and discuss this with the sliding sports," Gough said.

"I have a hard time believing that the executive and the board at WinSport have the best interests of the sliding community at heart.

"We don't feel the leadership at WinSport has made a real effort to maintain the legacy that the '88 Games have brought. We hope they can find it in them to be motivated to really uphold that mandate of protecting and preserving that legacy."

According to WinSport archives, the cost to build the track for 1988 was $18.8 million.

An upper portion of the 36-year-old sliding track, which needs a new refrigeration unit, has been removed.

The track is adjacent to an ice house, where sliders practise their starts, and a high-performance training centre. Both were built after 1988 to enhance the Olympic legacy.

Heck insists the track project remains on WinSport's list of capital projects.

"Our capital projects are prioritized, and the day lodge has long been our No. 1 priority," he said in the statement.

"The day lodge is critical to WinSport’s year-round operations and the future viability and sustainability of COP, affecting hundreds of thousands of annual users and guests, including athletes of all ages and abilities.

"While we appreciate that this is difficult news for the sliding sports community, we are thankful that the Government of Alberta agreed to reallocate this money to serve hundreds of thousands of athletes and the community, instead of requiring us to return it."

Calgary's sliding track is the only one in the world situated within a large urban centre. The sliding track in Whistler, B.C., used for the 2010 Winter Olympics is in a ski resort.

"We'll continue to do what we're doing and produce competitive athletes," Gough said. "It's affected grassroots programs here in Alberta and in Calgary particularly.

"It really affects the future of sliding sport in Canada."

Calgary's sliding track was a regular stop on the international World Cup circuit for bobsleigh, luge and skeleton. The last World Cup races there were in 2019.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2022.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press