Winnipeg's 1st accessible toboggan run 'a game changer,' says sledge hockey Paralympian

Sledge hockey player and Paralympian Billy Bridges knows more than most people about winter sports, but he's never seen a toboggan run like this before.

$750K sled run was announced in February 2014

The accessible toboggan run in St. Vital Park officially opened on Friday. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Billy Bridges knows more than most people about winter sports, but he's never seen a toboggan run like this before.

The sledge hockey player and four-time Paralympian, who is married to Olympic hockey star Sami Jo Small, uses a wheelchair to get around. On Friday, he took the inaugural run on the St. Vital Park accessible slide, with his young daughter in his lap.

"I've never seen an accessible toboggan run before, in my entire life," he said.

"And having a two-year-old daughter, it's such a game changer that it's an activity that we can both come and do now. It's just so perfect."

The facility, touted by the architecture firm that designed it as the first accessible run in Winnipeg, opened Friday morning, more than three years after it was first announced in February 2014. In addition to two toboggan runs at different heights, it features a lookout point and a heated warming shelter that can be opened up to serve as a picnic site in the summer.

It's also got a long ramp through the trees to the first toboggan run, making the facility accessible to people in wheelchairs.

Four-time Paralympian Billy Bridges said he's never seen an accessible toboggan run before. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

"I love this park already, with the skating rink in the middle and facilities to stay warm," Bridges said.

"But to be able to have this toboggan run here, you know, so close to the road too — it's so accessible that anyone can really make it from [a] bus, and they can wheel right here if they're in a wheelchair."

'A long grind'

The facility replaces an older run, built in the 1980s, and a warming hut that burned down in 2013. The idea to add a wheelchair ramp came late in the game, but St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes said it's a key part of the project.

"It has been a long grind. I ran by here in the '70s as a high school athlete. I brought my kids here. I came here with my parents to this park," Mayes said.

"So to be able to leave something behind like this — it means a great deal to me. Very proud of this project."

The toboggan run got $250,000 from the ward's city allocation, plus support from the City of Winnipeg's and Province of Manitoba's Building Communities Initiative. The total price tag came in at $750,000, paid for over the past three years.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires both spoke at the opening.

The run was designed by Winnipeg firm Public City Architecture. Liz Wreford, the principal landscape architect with the firm, said it was a unique but important project for her team.

"I think that there's so many recreational opportunities for a lot of people in Winnipeg," Wreford said.

"But to be able to open it up to absolutely everybody, and to be able to experience winter in this kind of really fun way and get outside and socialize and create community — it's so important for us in Winnipeg."