Calgary

Calgary ski jumps may stay open another 2 years — if advocates can find the cash

Ski jumping advocates are hard at work trying to save Calgary facilities set to close next month. The non-profit operator, WinSport, says it would keep the jumps open if funds are found to do so.

WinSport set to close facility this fall, citing finances, waning interest

The big ski jump at Canada Olympic Park, operated by WinSport, is an iconic landmark that can be seen from many parts of the city. (Paul Karchut/CBC)

Ski jumping advocates are hard at work trying to save Calgary facilities set to close next month. 

As the deadline looms, they've been given a bit of hope. WinSport, the non-profit operator, now says it would keep the jumps open another two years — if Ski Jumping Canada can come up with enough funds to run them.

"We're not squatters up on the hill. We like to pull our own weight when we can, so we're working towards finding that solution to keep them operational," Ski Jumping Canada chairperson Todd Stretch told the Calgary Eyeopener on Friday.

The ski jumps are perhaps the most visible reminder of the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. They stand on the northwest skyline on the border of Canada Olympic Park, and remain one of two facilities for ski jumpers left in the country.

Advocates for the sport say the jumps are necessary to keep the sport alive in Canada.

Outcry from parents, coaches

Despite much outcry from parents and coaches, WinSport had said it would close the three smaller hills at the end of October, citing waning interest and high maintenance and operational costs.

However, WinSport told CBC News this week it would be open to taking financial assistance to keep those jumps open, and Ski Jumping Canada said it's making progress to find that money.

"We are working 100 per cent to find a solution, to find some funding with WinSport," Stretch said. "We are working with multi-party funding, with different levels fo government, to secure some funding at least for the short term."

The group has until Oct. 31.

Ski jump advocates want the sport to stay at WinSport. Pictured are Ski Jumping Canada head coach Gregor Linsig, left, Ski Jumping Canada chairman Todd Stretch, centre, and Alberta Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined chairman Mike Bodnarchuk, right. (Paul Karchut/CBC)

A few years ago, Stretch said, WinSport called for funding to save the jumps, as well. Ski Jumping Canada was able to secure a million-dollar sponsor, so he's confident the group will be successful this time, too.

He said the group has analyzed the operational costs and believes it can bring the annual bill down from $500,000 to $345,000. It also brought in an Austrian ski jump engineer, who estimated only a few small repairs are needed to fix the three smaller jumps, K18, K38 and K63, Stretch said.

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)

One of those jumps is 60 metres high, which advocates of the sport say is key to athlete development. The only other facility in Canada, at Whistler, B.C., doesn't have that size of a jump.

In a letter this summer, WinSport CEO Barry Heck wrote the organization would be "delighted" if the planned shuttering of the jumps could be avoided. But he added that while WinSport would co-operate, it could not offer any financial support.

"WinSport itself continues to face significant financial challenges and difficult decisions in prioritizing our limited resources as effectively and efficiently as possible," Heck wrote.

Should Calgary should win a bid for the 2026 Winter Games, the plan is to hold ski jumping events at Whistler, a move the International Olympic Committee endorses. Stretch argues the Calgary jumps could be at least used for training for the Olympics.

The potential agreement to keep the jumps open would be irrespective of any Olympic bid, WinSport spokesperson Dale Oviatt said.

With files from Elizabeth Withey and the Calgary Eyeopener.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Ward

Journalist

Rachel Ward is a journalist with The Fifth Estate. You can reach her with questions or story ideas at rachel.ward@cbc.ca.

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