Killing 2 Olympic sports with 1 closure: Group petitions to save Calgary’s ski jumps

A group has launched a petition to keep ski jumps open at Canada Olympic Park after WinSport permanently closed them earlier this year. Global News

A group has launched a petition to keep ski jumps open at Canada Olympic Park (COP) in Calgary after WinSport permanently closed them earlier this year.

WinSport said stakeholders have known since May 2015 that the jumps would be closed and decommissioned in October 2018.

Ski Jumping Canada, who started the petition, wants at least three — K18, K38 and K60 — of the five jumps to remain.

READ MORE: Deadline approaches to save iconic Calgary ski jump complex from being closed down

Mike Bodnarchuk, chair of Alberta Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Association, said in addition to the petition, the group is lobbying all levels of government for action.

“We’re completely devastated and disappointed by this news because in closing these ski jumps, it basically is going to kill two Olympic sports in Canada: ski jumping and nordic combined,” he said.

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Bodnarchuk said the jumps are vital to the sport.

“This is the home of grassroots ski jumping in Canada,” he said. “This is where athletes as young as six years old learn to ski jump and this is where you go from learning nothing to being a member of the national team and representing Canada on the international stage.”

He said WinSport was created to be a centre for amateur and high-performance sport in Canada — not a tube or zipline park.

“If this place goes down, two Olympic sports go down. We’re not going to let that happen.”

“It’s vital that these jumps stay open,” Bodnarchuk continued. “It’s vital that our young athletes have a place to train. Without this place, we have nothing. These sports will die and we’re just not going to let that happen on our watch.”

A group has launched a petition to keep ski jumps open at Canada Olympic Park after WinSport permanently closed them earlier this year. Global News

Time is ticking for the association; they’ll be without a home on Jan. 30. Winsport is shutting down their offices at the ski jump centre, saying it has worked with the association to find space in the Bob Niven Centre.

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“We’re really struggling to find alternatives for the trailers, which house all of our equipment for 100 athletes… As you can imagine, it’s a tremendous amount of work and we have nowhere to go,” Bodnarchuk said.

“All of this combined is creating a lot of stress and duress on our organizations.”

READ MORE: Canada Olympic Park ski jumps to be dismantled

Dale Oviatt, senior manager of communications and stakeholder engagement at WinSport, said the jumps were past their lifespan. WinSport has operated the jumps for more than 30 years with no third-party support‎ aside from the 2015 agreement that kept them operating until October 2018, he said.

“A recent FIS [Fédération Internationale de Ski] inspection identified several repairs that would be required for safety reasons to keep them operational,” Oviatt said in a statement to Global News. “In addition, the irrigation and snowmaking lines would need to be replaced. The cost of this is significant.”

“WinSport did agree this past summer that if third-party support could be found by the deadline to offset the operating costs and capital repairs, that we would continue to operate them for two more seasons. Zero support was found,” he added. “As a not-for-profit organization, WinSport is not in a position to continue to bear 100 per cent of the costs to operate and maintain the facility. The costs to operate and maintain the facility are approximately $400,000 per year — in addition to the aforementioned upgrades required.”

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Oviatt insisted that the area will continued to be used for sport, not a theme park.

“The 90-metre tower with the rings will remain,” Oviatt said. “It is the takeoff point for our zipline and an iconic part of Calgary.”

READ MORE: Calgary Olympic bid: IOC welcomes idea of using venues in Whistler, elsewhere

Natasha Bodnarchuk, a Canadian National Team ski jumper, said that though Whistler is great — and the only other jumping spot in the country — it’s not a viable option since it’s only open in winter.

“Right here in Calgary, this is the centre of ski jumping in Canada,” she said. “It’s the only place in Canada where you can jump year round. It’s the only place that has a 60-metre jump, which is crucial. It’s the most important jump for developing athletes. It’s the jump that allows athletes to really enhance their skills so they can progress from the small hills to the bigger hills, the 90-metre jump.”

With the closure, there wouldn’t be younger athletes learning to do the sport, effectively killing it, Natasha explained.

“It breaks my heart to think about those younger kids who would have to quit sport,” she said. “They would have nowhere to train.”

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Natasha has been ski jumping for 11 of her 20 years, learning at the facility that means a lot to her. She wants people to see the passion of young ski jumpers before it’s too late.

“We have so many kids who have a lot of great potential, and in order for them to enhance that potential and to compete, they need to have jumps and they need to have a facility,” she said.

“A lot of people just see the medals and they see the results, but there’s so much more hard work that goes into that.”

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