Luge Canada has applied to relocate the 50th Luge World Championships from Calgary to Whistler.
The organization, which is headquartered at WinSport, said the multi-sport facility couldn’t confirm the luge track would be open by 2021 for the event, so the organization made the decision to move the event.
“We have to apply for grants, we have to start taking steps to develop and organize the program for the event,” Luge Canada executive director Tim Farstad said.
“We can’t wait until next year or next summer, we had to make the decision now.”
Earlier this year, WinSport announced it would be closing the track due until further notice. Officials said the track needs a new refrigeration system, which would come at a cost of $25 million.
WinSport has secured $17 million in government funding for the repairs and upgrades, but say they’re still $8 million short of their goal.
“We are hopeful that we’ll find a funding solution to complete the construction to open for the 2020-21 season,” WinSport spokesperson Dale Oviatt wrote in an email.
“Even when that is complete, it wouldn’t be feasible to host the worlds in 2021 due to the lead-up time required for such an important event.
“While WinSport’s preference is to host it in Calgary, due to the aforementioned, Whistler is the next best option.”
Hosting the World Championships in 2021 would have marked the first time the event was hosted in Calgary since 2001.
Whistler has hosted the event in 2012 and 2013.
“This is where the bulk of our program is, even with Whistler around, it’s just a smaller community out there,” Farstad said. “It would be a huge blow to us and our program and, I think, to the community of Calgary, if we continue to shut down these Olympic venues.”
Farstad has been involved in luge since 1999, with his involvement with the track and Olympic sports goes back much further. While he was a student in university, he volunteered during the 1988 Winter Olympics and worked with the WinSport track prior to getting involved with Luge Canada.
Following the “No” vote in the Calgary 2026 plebiscite, Farstad said the potential loss of the track is concerning, as well as the athletes that train there.
“It’s very concerning,” Farstad said. “If the Olympic legacy ends in Calgary, it would be very sad.”
The World Championships would see 10 athletes competing under the Canadian flag, with 120 others coming to Calgary from around the world along with 500 coaches and staff.
The loss of the event and coinciding economic impact isn’t concerning for Tourism Calgary, though. The organization said the city brings in 89 events per year with an economic impact of over $108 million.
“This was a business decision, and we understand those decisions get made every single day,” Cassandra McAuley with Tourism Calgary said. “We’ll continue to host events and world cups at WinSport — they’re a really important partner of ours and a really important player in our year-round event strategy.’
Luge Canada said WinSport has informed them the track would be closed for next season.
“There’s not enough time to find the money and start the construction and get it completed by the start of the season in October,” Farstad said. “I’m hoping it’s a pause, not a closure.”
The organization will be discussing the track closure at its annual general meeting this year, as well as what steps it will have to take without a functioning track at their facility.
According to Farstad, the track’s closure will affect the local athletes more than their professional Olympic counterparts.
“When it comes to the tip-top of our athletes, they train here only a few weeks in the year because they’re mostly in Europe,” Farstad said. “But when it comes to the development of a luge athlete and the starting point in getting on the ice for the first time, this is the perfect venue.”
The 65th Congress of the International Luge Federation awarded the 2021 World Championships to Calgary following a 20-25 vote against a bid from a track in Germany.
Luge Canada has sent a request to the congress to move the venue of the race. A decision is expected in June.
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