Parents, coaches say sport will 'cease to exist' when Calgary ski jumps close

WinSport, which manages Calgary's Canada Olympic Park, says it can no longer afford to pay to upgrade and maintain three, small-bowl ski jumps used to train athletes.

'We've been footing the bill and we can no longer do that,' WinSport spokesperson says

Olympic ski jumper Atsuko Tanaka climbs the stairs to the top of the jump as she trains at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Coaches and parents are decrying the scheduled closure of ski jumps at Calgary's Canada Olympic Park, saying the move could spell the end of the sport in this country.

The park has five ski jumps built for the 1988 Olympics. Four are operational. WinSport, which manages the park, plans to close the three smaller jumps, which are used by new and developing athletes.

They will close in October.

"For the sport of ski jumping, it's the only place we can do it," said Wesley Savill, who coaches about 30 students at Altius Nordic Ski Club, as well as provincial and national teams.

"There used to be ski jumps all over Alberta, all over B.C., all over Ontario and Quebec — and now we're this little oasis of the sport, and without it, we would go nowhere.

"I think the sport would cease to exist in Canada."

Coach Wesley Savill, left, and ski-jumping parent Chris Payne have long been involved with ski jump at WinSport. (Andrew Brown/CBC)

The jumps were most famously used by Britain's Eddie (The Eagle) Edwards, who came last in the 70-metre ski jump competition at the 1988 Olympics.

'Footing the bill'

Since then, they've been the primary training ground for the sport in Canada, for children, amateur athletes and Olympians.

Now the smaller jumps, WinSport says, need expensive upgrades and cost too much to run: about $500,000 each year.

"Do we get paid anything from Ski Jump Canada or the other users to cover that $500,000? No, certainly we don't," spokesperson Dale Oviatt said. "So you know what, we've been footing the bill and we can no longer do that."

A man in  a blue outfit takes part in a ski jumping competition
Britain's Eddie Edwards, his arms spread wide in unconventional style, takes off during the 70-meter Ski Jump competition in Calgary on Feb. 14, 1988. (Glen Olsen/Winnipeg Free Press/The Canadian Press)

Ski Jump Canada says if money's the issue, perhaps more could be done. Vice-chairman Todd Stretch said the organization has found a sponsor to help in past tough times.

The organization said it will look at the finances closely.

The closures would impact two Olympic sports, ski jumping and nordic combined, as athletes prepare for the 2022 Winter Olympics and look ahead to 2026 Games, which Calgary may bid to host.

Some have suggested holding the ski jump events in Whistler. B.C., which has competition-level jumps built for the 2010 Winter Games.

Ski jumping events at the Olympics require two different sized competition hills, as shown here at the Pyeonchang 2018 Winter Olympics. (Karin Larsen/CBC)

But Ski Jump Canada says the site is not a good alternative as it does not have a 60-metre jump, which is needed to train skiers to progress to the larger 90- and 120-metre jumps. The mountain town is also far away from a large city, from which to draw prospective athletes.

The facility is also open only in the winter, whereas Calgary's allows some training year round.

'Kills me inside'

Calgary committed to developing new athletes in the Olympic winter sports after hosting the Games in 1988 — and the closure means abandoning future athletes, Savill said, like his students.

"It kills me inside. The legacy of the Olympics would be tarnished," said Savill, who himself learned the sport at COP.

"While it is a niche sport, the athletes that are here identify with it and love it, and it's what makes them unique. It would be awful to see this opportunity go away."

Pat Payne says her daughter was first engaged in athletics by competing in ski jump. (Andrew Brown/CBC)

One of those students, 12-year-old Jasmine Payne, hadn't been told by the time CBC News spoke with her parents on Tuesday. Her mother, Pat Payne, said she'll be pretty upset.

"Not every parent can afford to get into hockey or figure skating," Payne said.

"Kids who don't fit that team mode … have a place to go to compete very individually."

The parents say they want to see the jumps maintained, despite WinSport's firm position on closing them.

With files from Andrew Brown, Caroline Wagner and the Calgary Eyeopener.