Alberta Parks cuts came as 'complete shock' to Biathlon Canada
Loss of trail grooming will make Mount Shark range 'useless,' says long-term athlete development director
The director of long-term athlete development with Biathlon Canada says the Alberta government's decision to stop grooming ski trails at a facility near Canmore will render the shooting range there "useless" and the decision came as a "complete shock" to his organization.
As part of its budget cuts, the provincial government announced last week that it would end cross-country trail grooming at several locations in the Kananaskis region, including the Peter Lougheed, Kananaskis Village and Mount Shark ski areas.
Mount Shark is home to the Ruedi Setz Biathlon Range, which is used by both recreational and high-performance biathletes.
High-level biathletes primarily train at the Canmore Nordic Centre, which will remain open, but Roddy Ward with Biathlon Canada said they "do tend use" the Mount Shark range as well.
Biathlon is a sport where participants race on cross-country skis while carrying rifles and stop at points during the race to shoot targets. Penalties are incurred for missed targets.
The provincial government has not responded to questions about what will happen to the biathlon range next season, when it plans to cease trail grooming at Mount Shark and other locations in Kananaskis.
Jess Sinclair, the press secretary for Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon, said in a tweet that Alberta "still has many groomed (and ungroomed) trails" that cross-country skiers can use.
"We're also open to partnering with nordic clubs on the maintenance of these areas," she added.
Ward said he can't see how the Ruedi Setz facility would function without cross-country trails to go with it.
"The biathlon range will be made useless in the winter without grooming," he told CBC News in an email.
"This decision came as a complete shock to us all, as there was no public consultations."
Ward said the trail closures will have an effect beyond athlete development.
"For our community, the ski trail closures will have a large negative impact not only on recreation but also on tourism," he said. "All three ski trail centres are well used by local skiers and tourists alike."
He called the province's move "beyond disappointing."
"This will also have a negative impact on the health and well-being of our community," Ward said.
"My hope is this terrible decision will be reversed with enough public outcry."