WinSport launches program to help newcomers integrate into the Calgary community

WinSport is excited to launch a new program that will help newcomers to Canada integrate into the Calgary community by introducing them to winter sport.

The WinSport Newcomers program will welcome 60 newcomers to skate, ski and snowboard lessons at WinSport this winter so they can embrace winter and meet fellow Calgarians.

Barry Heck, WinSport President & CEO says the program is an extension of what WinSport has been doing for decades.

“Since the 1960s, WinSport has been a congregation point for Calgarians to come learn how to ski. And since we hosted the 1988 Winter Olympic Games, we’ve grown to become a premier destination where people of all ages come to ski, snowboard, skate and play hockey,” Heck explains. “We take great pride in welcoming people of all ages and abilities to winter sports where we can help build their confidence in sport and in life. The newcomers program is another way in which we can remove barriers and help integrate our new neighbours to the community.”

The idea was born after the success of a pilot program WinSport ran during the past two winter seasons. WinSport worked with local organizations, including the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association (CIWA) to identify a family interested in participating in a ski lesson. Since 2015, two families took ski lessons. Following the success of the pilot program, CIWA decided to support WinSport’s initiative to expand.

Meanwhile, this past spring the Calgary Christian School held a floor hockey tournament fundraiser, which raised just under $10,000 to help newcomers integrate into Canada.

“Our school welcomes students from all over the world. Because they are new to Calgary, we want them to feel welcomed, and included, and part of what’s happening so that they’ll grow to be confident and active participants in their communities,” said Leona Schaap, communications coordinator for the Calgary Christian School. “WinSport’s Newcomer Program helps our new families integrate into Canadian culture and make Calgary feel like home. We are grateful for the opportunity to support this unique program!”

Instructing sport is nothing new to WinSport, however, introducing sport to newcomers is a relatively new endeavour. To ensure best practices are exercised when introducing newcomers to these sports, WinSport will be working with Simon Barrick, PhD Candidate at the University of Calgary, to adopt best practices in sport integration. His doctoral research involves exploring lived experience of newcomers to Canada in introductory winter sport programs.

WinSport’s partnering with Barrick garnered even more support. Calgarian Bruce Shultz heard about WinSport’s newcomer program and decided to support it though a significant financial donation.

“I was very impressed with Simon Barrick’s research involving the question of identity, inclusion and belongingness of newcomers,” says Shultz. “Sport has played such an important role in my life and I wanted to support the newcomer program. The idea of introducing people new to our country through sport is a great way for them to integrate into our community, meet their new neighbours and begin a shared sense of belonging.”

The support received for the WinSport Newcomers Program will allow WinSport to introduce 60 newcomers to winter lessons. Participants will be placed in groups of 10, which will allow them to connect with others and share the experience together.

How can you help?

WinSport is always looking for people or organizations to donates funds, equipment or clothing so we can continue welcoming newcomers to snow and ice. To put it into perspective, an additional $5,000 would put 15 more people into winter lessons.

Coat Drive

As many newcomers have never experienced winter, they won’t likely have winter apparel. If you would like to donate coats, toques and gloves (no equipment) drop-off areas are set up at the following locations from Oct. 3 – Nov. 13:

Northwest Acura – 125 Crowfoot Way NW

Silverhill Acura – 5728 MacLeod Trail S

Ski Cellar – 5809 Macleod Trail South, 11 Bowridge Drive N.W. or 1442 17 Avenue S.W.

WinSport – 88 Canada Olympic Road SW

MLA Deborah Drever’s Constituency Office – 6307 Bowness Rd NW

WinSport launches Athlete Development Program

WinSport has launched a new multi-faceted sport training program to help both developing and competitive athletes reach their full potential.

The Athlete Development Program was launched earlier this month. It is based on the Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) framework and scientifically driven performance strategy, where coaches provide the right training for each athlete, based on age and stage of growth and development.winsport_teamtraining-5361

“The rationale behind this program is to really match our mission, which is to provide opportunities for Canadians to discover, develop and excel at sport through world-class training, facilities and exceptional experiences,” explains Bernie Asbell, Vice-President of Sport Operations.

Fall and winter programs run over several weeks and are designated by LTAD stages: learn to train, train to train and train to compete.

Asbell says one of the unique aspects of the Athlete Development program is that it is run on WinSport’s world-class campus, offering an environment and facilities unlike any other in the city.

“We tap into all of our assets, so we’ll use our hill outside, the training floor and equipment in the Performance Training Centre and other indoor areas,” Asbell says. “Because of our unique training environment, it’s easy for athletes to get inspired and motivated to reach their training goals.”

The program also includes hockey-specific training for both during the season and in the off-season. For example, one program helps a player reach peak performance so they can be at their best during pre-season evaluations while carrying that momentum into the season.

“We really take a long-term perspective so not only will the athlete be ready for evaluations, they’ll be at peak performance all season and for the playoffs,” Asbell explains. “Our training involves both mental and physical conditioning where they learn how to prepare, condition and push themselves to really learn what they are capable of.”

For more information and for a full list of programs, click here.

Thrilling Free Fall adventure comes to WinSport this August

If you’re a fan of WinSport’s zipline, mountain bike trails or summer bobsleigh, then you’re guaranteed to love our new Free Fall adventure, opening for the first time at WinSport in August.

Free Fall is unlike any bungee-jumping or sky-diving experience you’ve had and we have the only one in Western Canada! Picture yourself standing atop our new tower, only 80-feet between you and the ground. When you fall is up to you!

The platform tower is 80 feet above the ground.
The platform tower is 80 feet above the ground.

Step off the eight-storey platform and prepare for 36-feet of free falling before you’re slowed down by the magnetic braking component that gently catches you and lowers you to the ground.

Free Fall combines the “pit in the stomach” feeling of sky-diving with the rope and harness aspect of bungee jumping (minus the uncontrollable bouncing).

Our new thrill attraction is perfect for anyone looking for a new adventure. Add it to the list of other thrilling activities at the park — or make an exclusive trip to come out and give it a try! Free Fall offers one or two drop tickets, allowing you to choose how many times you want to fall!

Catch you (literally) on the Free Fall tower!

For more information on the FlightLine Free Fall Device check out https://headrushtech.com/flightline-free-fall/index.html

For pricing, hours & more information check out our website https://www.winsport.ca/activities/summer/freefall.cfm

WinSport’s downhill mountain biking trails revamped just in time for upcoming season

WinSport’s mountain bike trails are opened this summer with some new runs, obstacles and terrain. As Calgary’s only lift-accessible mountain bike hill, riders can complete a lot of runs in a day, which allows them to familiarize with a course and master timing and technique.

During the past few years we have added black features to blue trails and blue features to green trails which we realized caused some confusion to riders when looking at the maps. As a result, some of the changes this year included making the terrain true to trails skill designation from top to bottom, which was a recommendation from the company who built our trails back in 2007. We also looked at the overall hits and misses of all the trails and updated and changed them to best suit our riders. There have been some massive changes to some of our most popular trails, such as Safari Planet. But we’ve also added more green-level trails to make the hill more accessible to beginner and intermediate riders.

West Trees

Ian Newcombe, the Manager of Venues and Operations at WinSport, says Safari Planet is one of the most extensively updated trails.

Our most popular trail, Safari Planet, located in the West Trees, has been completely resurfaced to allow for a smoother ride.
Our most popular trail, Safari Planet, located in the West Trees, has been completely resurfaced to allow for a smoother ride.

“It was resurfaced top to bottom over a two-week period to make for a smooth and more controllable ride,” says Newcombe.  “We also redid the tables to make those areas smoother as well.”

Now the trail rides nicely, is flowy and offers some new line choices. Similarly, to Safari Planet, the Dragon Slayer trail was reconstructed to better suit our riders. Full of banks and bridges, this intermediate trail used to feature older obstacles. We removed them to create a fun, flowy trail for the true intermediate riders.

Our expert trail, Haircut Rabbit, features wood jumps and provides a rush of adrenaline for our more experienced riders.

“We wanted to make the trail more accessible to our intermediate riders,” says Newcombe. “You’ll see construction being done around mid-July and we hope to have it open shortly after that.”

Keep an eye out for the updated trail later in the season.

East Trees

The Green Tea trail used to be a green trail that transitioned to an intermediate level. But now, it can entirely green or transition to a more difficult trail, depending on rider preference.

“The Green Tea Trail connects with the more challenging Paskapoo Pass, but we have now added a trail at a fork for riders who want to keep riding on a green trail, ” says Newcombe.

Construction also continues for The Strawberry Shortcake trails, where crews are working towards making the transition from intermediate to expert a lot smoother.

“Once open, you can expect trails that give riders a chance to practice a bit before hitting the more difficult ones,” he says.

Skills Park

Our skills park is a major resource for beginner and intermediate riders with logs, wooden A frames, Ogopogos and more exciting features.

The Double Jeopardy trail in the West Trees has a brand new wooden bridge feature ideal for intermediate riders.
The Double Jeopardy trail in the West Trees has a brand new wooden bridge feature ideal for intermediate riders.

“Last year, we took trees that were already cut down and used them as a natural obstacle course,” says Newcombe. “There are a lot of features for all skill levels as well as a lot of options for kids learning to ride.”

Using the resources of the skills park with a touch of creativity is what makes our skills park unique. With its new location between the Acura Tube Park and the ’88 Express, you can guarantee it will be a vital part of the mountain bike school’s daily routine.

For more information, including ticket prices and purchasing, hours of operation and trail maps, click here.

Catch you on the new trails!

How cardiovascular health helps you achieve any fitness goal

We are nearly through two months of 2017 and unfortunately, many of you have already failed to stick to your New Year’s resolutions.

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Improving cardiovascular fitness through activities such as biking, running and rowing reduces the risk of getting cancer, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart arrhythmias, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Since a majority of resolutions are typically fitness-related goals, it’s never too late to start back up or begin a new plan. Whether it’s weight loss, improving cardiovascular fitness or building muscle mass – the most important body part to focus on is the heart, says WinSport’s Athletic Development Specialist, Tara McNeil.

“It’s your body’s engine and it affects everything,” McNeil says. “Improving your heart heatlh/cardiovascular fitness can reduce the stress to your other organs and systems, increases your stamina and energy levels throughout the day, helps with your tolerance to stress overall, and reduces your mortality rate by 25 percent.”

Aside from those benefits, cardiovascular fitness also helps lower your risk of and/or improve your recovery from a laundry list of other health issues including cancer, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart arrhythmias, high blood pressure and cholesterol. It also helps with recovery from all types of stress.

“A healthy cardiovascular system also supports your immune system and reduces the frequency of colds and the flu or speeds up recovery when we do fall ill,” McNeil says.

How to improve heart health

So how do you improve heart health? The simple answer is exercise.

“Unless you are adjusting your training for sport-specific performances, everybody should be doing three to five days of per week of aerobic exercise,” McNeil says. “Biking, rowing, swimming, running and walking briskly are all great ways to exercise your heart.”

Length and intensity

McNeil says you should exercise at a moderate level consistently for 30 minutes or longer, three to five times per week.

“A good way to tell what a moderate pace is to be able to talk in full sentences, but not so much that you could sing,” McNeil explains.

Importance of warm-up and cool down

A warm up is extremely important prior to performing any aerobic exercise.

“During a warmup, hormones are released that allow blood vessels to open more fully to prevent spikes in blood pressure and lower stress on the heart,” McNeil says. “Similarly, cool down for five to 10 minutes to return your blood flow to near normal levels in a gradual fashion, which reduces the chance of any heart-related issues (arrhythmias etc.) post-exercise.”

WinSport’s Cardio and Core classes are a great way to improve your heart-health and overall fitness. Visit Tara and her team at the Performance Training Centre for more information on memberships and classes or go to http://www.winsport.ca/performancetrainingcentre/ptchome.cfm

Calgarian Rosalind Groenewoud among national athletes training on the Under Armour Halfpipe

The Under Armour halfpipe at WinSport is bustling with athletes from Canada, France, New Zealand, Japan, Great Britain and the United States who are training on the famous halfpipe.

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Rosalind Groenewoud is one of 32 halfpipe athletes from around the world who are training on the Under Armour halfpipe at WinSport this week. Her next stop is Mammoth, California, where she’ll compete in the FIS World Cup.

World-renowned pipe cutter Frank Wells worked with WinSport’s snowmaking crews for approximately two weeks to complete the pipe just before Christmas.

Among the many athletes training here is Rosalind Groenewoud, a member of Canada’s national halfpipe ski team, who came back home to Calgary from Squamish, B.C., to continue training.

“It’s a pretty intimidating halfpipe but it’s just awesome and is the best in the world,” says Groenewoud. “Frank Wells is such an expert at building these and now he’s taught the people at WinSport how to build it, which is great.”

Groenewoud started out on WinSport’s hill at the age of three after her parents enrolled her in ski lessons. She quickly fell in love with the sport, but had to leave it soon after when her family moved to Ecuador while she was in elementary school. When she was 13-years-old, her family returned to Calgary and immediately enrolled her in freestyle skiing.

“I probably should have started with basic ski lessons, but my parents put me right into freestyle,” Groenewoud says. “I joke that I actually learned to ski on the halfpipe.”

Jumping right into freestyle was arguably a blessing in disguise, as Groenewoud excelled quickly to stardom. After making her Winter X Games debut in 2008, she finished third in both 2010 and 2011 and captured gold at the 2011 FIS World Championships and the 2012 Winter X Games. She then won silver at the 2013 and 2014 Winter X Games. She finished seventh in her Olympic debut at Sochi 2014.

She says coming back to Calgary is special not only because she gets to train on the halfpipe, but because she gets to witness the excitement amongst all the kids on the hill learning to ski.

“It’s kind of nostalgic because I remember being here with all my friends in junior high and high school, so to see their excitement is pretty special,” Groenewoud says. “We’re so fortunate to have (WinSport) for the development of athletes but it’s also a place to have a social connection where you can train and make friends at the same time.”

After training at WinSport, Groenewoud will head to Mammoth, Calif., in the first week of February for the FIS World Cup and then to Bokwang, Korea, for another FIS World Cup.

One of WinSport’s longest serving volunteers is still giving back to the community

If you’ve skied or snowboarded on WinSport’s hill, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Paul Quan.

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Paul Quan has been volunteering at skate and ski programs at WinSport since the 1988 Winter Olympics.

Let’s just say he frequents the place quite a bit. In fact, the 80-year-old has been at WinSport nearly every day since the 1988 Winter Olympics, donating thousands of hours of his time to do one simple thing – help people who are learning to ski and skate.

“Somebody on the hill needs my help,” Paul explains when asked what has given him the motivation to come to WinSport every day for the last 27 years. “There’s always somebody who is just learning and might be stressed out on the hill and I just want to help them.”

The concept of helping people is something that you could say is part of Paul’s DNA. After retiring from his career as a building designer with the City of Calgary, Paul volunteered with the Calgary Police Service and then at the 1988 Olympics. Riding on the momentum of the Olympics, Paul shifted the focus from helping organizers of the Olympics host a successful event, to helping countless Calgarians feel comfortable and welcome while they learn winter sports.

Depending on the day, he’ll either be on the ski hill or in the Markin MacPhail Centre (MMC) helping with the skating programs.

“I’ll ski around and help people who have fallen, help them up and make sure they’re OK,” Paul explains, adding that he plays a similar role when volunteering with the skating programs. “I’ll also make sure people have a helmet and are having a good time.”

Paul says he understands that skating on ice, or a skiing down a hill can be intimidating. He moved to Canada from China in 1960, so snow and winter sport were completely foreign to him when he first set foot on Canadian soil.

“I was always active as a kid growing up in China and one of the things I used to do was swim in the river with water buffalo,” Paul explains adding that he was eager to try Canada’s winter sports.

“At first I thought people were stupid to put on these six foot long sticks on your feet and go down a hill,” Paul explains with a laugh. “But then you go, and you’re hooked.”

In Paul’s case, being ‘hooked’ to winter sport is something that is benefiting the many people who have met one of WinSport’s longest standing volunteers. Whether it was a conversation, a wave, or being picked up off the ground after a tumble on the hill – Paul has helped and continues to help people young and old who come to discover sports at WinSport. He’s one of more than 200 dedicated volunteers who help the more than one million people who visit the campus to participate in the year-round activities. It brings gratification to each volunteer in different ways, but for Paul, just seeing the smiles on the faces of the people he’s helped is what makes him come back every day.

“I like when they see me and wave or give the thumbs up,” Paul says about the most gratifying thing about being a volunteer ski ambassador. “It’s a good feeling when people recognize you and you know you have had a positive impact on their life.”

By volunteering for WinSport you can help provide essential support to various departments and activities while gaining valuable work experience. If you have a passion for sport, leadership or community, please view our volunteer opportunities here and help people become better than yesterday: http://www.winsport.ca/aboutwinsportcanada/joinourteam/volunteer.cfm

What it takes to build a snow tube park

WinSport is launching a new and exciting activity the whole family can take in this winter – The Acura Tube Park.

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The Acura Tube Park construction began with the installation of a magic carpet and building an area to slow tubes down at the bottom of the run.

This giant park, located on Canada Olympic Park, has variety of lanes some of which are 200 metres in length. It also has its own dedicated magic carpet. It’s a great way to get on snow and enjoy winter for those who don’t fancy skiing or snowboarding or for those just wanting to try a different winter activity.

But what does it take to make Western Canada’s largest tube park? Mike Tanner has the answer. He’s the Director of Venues at WinSport and has a wealth of experience building and consulting snow structures at WinSport and the Canmore Nordic Centre. He also travelled to Salt Lake City, Utah, to help build structures for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Mike says one of the biggest challenges isn’t creating create speed on the park, it’s to ensure the riders can slow down safely. As a result, a significant amount of dirt was needed on the north east side of the hill.

“A total of 8,000 cubic metres of dirt was put down in that area to create the outrun, or stopping area,” Mike explains. “It’s a lot of dirt and it took about four weeks to complete with the assistance of bulldozers and rock trucks.”

From there, WinSport staff tested the grade to ensure tubers would be able to reach a fast, but safe speed. Once Mike’s team determined the grade was sufficient, they began to build the lanes using a special attachment that hooks onto the back of a snowcat.

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The Acura Tube Park has 10 lanes, each 200 metres in length, making it the largest of its kind in Western Canada.

“We just drive it down and it plow the snow in a way that forms banks on both sides, essentially forming the walls of a tube lane,” Mike explains. “We just continue the process until 10 lanes are formed.”

Lanes 1 and 2 are slower for kids, while the rest are faster lanes for adults. Now that the park is built all that’s left is the regular upkeep.

“The maintenance on the park is quite minimal and all we really have to do is groom it every night to make sure the lanes are smooth and not icy,” Mike explains.

WinSport is kicking off the opening with a Christmas themed event which includes Christmas music and a visit from Santa on December 17 and 18. Santa will be based in the Frank King Day Lodge, just outside the WinSport Coffee Market, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

WinSport continues to improve its snowmaking technique and technology

Unlike mountain resorts which mostly rely on Mother Nature to cover its terrain, WinSport relies on its technology, expertise and the dedication of its crews to produce man-made snow. In fact, 95 percent of the snow on our hill is artificial.

The reason? Due to Calgary’s chinooks and lack of snowfall throughout the year, a strong base of snow is required to both open in November, as well as to sustain the many high-temperature chinooks that occur throughout the winter.

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Ian Newcombe, Manager of Venues, leads WinSport’s snowmaking operation.

In command of it all is Ian Newcombe, Manager of Venues, who leads WinSport’s snowmaking operation. He says the operations have become that much more effective this year with the addition of some new equipment.

“We’ve added four new carrier fans, which is basically a snow gun that is on wheels,” Ian says. “This allows us to directly fill specific areas of the hill that need more snow coverage.”

Ian says the mobile snow guns can really be utilized in areas such as the base of chairlifts as well as sections in the terrain park, which are typically more challenging to adequately cover with snow. The equipment will also be useful in the late part of the season to combat bare spots.

These mobile snow guns are a great addition to the existing 18 tower guns, which are stationary and located near the middle of the hill.

Automated snowmaking  

Another unique aspect of WinSport’s snowmaking is the fact that all the snow guns are controlled by a system called Smart Snow, which allows Ian and his team to essentially control every function of the snow guns, including flow rates and angle, via a computer. Ian and his crew can manually adjust each snow gun or pre-set values which are dependent on temperature and humidity levels. For example, flow rates will be higher when it’s colder and dryer, which is the most ideal environment to make a lot of good quality snow in a short period of time.

“The system knows that the flow rate will be a lot less when the temperature is mild, and then knows to ramp up when it gets colder,” Ian explains. “We’re really focused on not just creating snow, but creating quality snow that isn’t too wet or too icy and this system really allows us to achieve that.”

When does the hill open?

November’s mild temperatures have created challenges for Ian’s team this year. Although the crews have begun the process, they essentially need five days of at least -2C temperatures. As of Monday, the opening of the hill is dependent on more cold temperatures in order to make more snow.

“Colder temperatures are the most important factor in creating snow,” Ian explains. “On those days when it’s -30C and the city shuts down – that’s our Super Bowl. The colder and dryer it is, the quicker we can make snow.”

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A total of 18 stationary tower guns and four carriage mobile guns create snow to open WinSport’s hill. Approximately 95 percent of the snow is man-made.

Ian adds at those temperatures, the snow guns could easily make 20 metres of snow in a single day.

Team dedication

The sophisticated equipment plays a significant role in the snow-making operation, but what’s even more important is the team who operates it. When the conditions are ideal for making snow, Ian’s crew works around the clock, literally, to make the best snow for skiers and snowboarders.

“There’s a team of eight people who operate our snow cats (grooming machines) and push snow around for 12 hours at a time and through the night as well,” Ian explains. “What really drives the crews is making the best possible snow for the many Calgarians who want to get on snow to ski and snowboard with their friends and family.”

For Ian, who like many Calgarians learned to ski on the hill, seeing the kids hit the snow for the first time on opening day is the most gratifying aspect of opening the hill.

“It’s such hard work but seeing the kids learning to ski and snowboard and watching people on the Under Armour Super Pipe under the lights makes it all worthwhile,” Ian explains. “Giving Calgarians the experience of getting on snow to either learn the sport or just enjoy the day with their friends and family is just really awesome.”

Prominent symposium inspires WinSport’s food and beverage team

We strive to be the best we can in everything we do at WinSport. Our food and beverage team is no exception. Every year they prepare world-class catering for hundreds of businesses, weddings and other events. One of the reasons our team is so successful is because they are passionate, innovative and always strive to provide the best food and experiences for their guests. It’s a reason why our team is always gaining insight and education with the latest innovations, techniques and trends in the culinary world.

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Jason McKay (left), WinSport’s Director of Food and Beverage, Darren MacLean, owner of Calgary restaurant Shokunin,  Amanda Cohen, owner of the award-winning vegetable restaurant Dirt Candy in New York and Executive Chef Liana Robberecht (far right), networking at the 2016 Food on the Edge conference in Ireland.

Their latest endeavour took Executive Chef Liana Robberecht and Jason McKay, Director of Food and Beverage, to Galway City, Ireland, to attend Food on the Edge. This prominent two-day symposium is for chefs and food enthusiasts around the world who want to create a better global network. It’s a forum where chefs listen, talk and debate about the future of food in the industry and on our planet.

Robberecht says the gathering was inspirational and provided an opportunity to learn from some of the best minds in the culinary industry.

“My favourite memory and learning experience was being in a room with so many amazing leaders,” she says. “These chefs, farmers and producers are all committed to change – to better the planet and to better the future. There were many innovating inspirations.  I heard everything from farming practices to a chef in New York committed to running a zero-waste operation.  It was remarkable what he is achieving – his plates are even made from recycled plastic bags, which is very inspiring.”

The symposium featured speeches from several high-profile chefs including Massimo Bottura, owner of his internationally renowned three Michelin star restaurant, Osteria, in Italy and David Kinch, owner of Manresa, a restaurant in Los Gatos, Calif. Robberecht also had the honour of speaking where she talked about the concept of avant-garde thinking when it comes to both cooking and sourcing ingredients.

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WinSport’s Executive Chef Liana Robberecht delivered a speech on avant-garde thinking and how it relates to both cooking and sourcing ingredients at the Food on the Edge conference in Ireland.

“I was nervous, but I was more honoured that I was given the opportunity to share the stage at such an impactful conference. It was definitely a career highlight,” says Robberecht.

Read WinSport Executive Chef Liana Robberecht’s full speech from the Food on the Edge conference below:

Food on the Edge – How Avant-Garde Thinkers Influence Change

The term “avant-garde” is from the French term “Vanguard”.

It is traditionally used to describe any artist, group, or style that is considered to be slightly ahead of the masses in technique, subject matter, or application.

To put it another way, being avant-garde involves exploring new methods or experimenting with new techniques, in order to produce better “art.”  

 When applying this to the culinary world, it is about creating food and dining experiences like no other.

Avant-garde thinkers do not see food as they simply ARE but instead what they could BE. 

A potato is not just a potato. A simple potato becomes an adventure, an obsession of study of what the potato can become.

Maybe the potato is steamed, sous-vide, creamed, dehydrated, slow roasted, or even covered with vegetable ash. Imagination and creativity take over until the potato itself is an experience.  

Take Chef Joel Robuchon – he took the potato to new heights with his famous pommes purée, globally known as the most perfect potato.  He is a chef but he is also an avant-garde thinker. 

He has the gift to take a simple ingredient and create a mind-blowing, almost religious experience.  I mean – he was voted Chef of the Century. But he isn’t alone in this capability – we all have this potential.

Avant-garde means thinking differently.  

Thinking differently creates change. 

Without change the culinary industry has the risk of being stale or even boring. 

Now, I know I’m preaching to the choir here at Food on the Edge where we all believe in challenging the status quo. I mean that’s why we are here today – to learn and challenge each other. 

We are avant-garde thinkers.  

Many of us are project driven. I know I sure am. I love getting involved in forward thinking projects. An example of this is Calgary’s Beakerhead, which is a mash up of food, art, science, and engineering. 

It’s a five-day city-wide festival where a collection of avant-garde thinkers take over the city. They present new ideas and experiences in interesting and unusual ways.  

Different disciplines work together and create new experiences which challenge participants and attendees to think differently.  

It truly is avant-garde thinking at its best.

Through this festival, I was introduced to cricket flour.  I created a cricket gnocchi workshop for Beakerhead attendees in 2015.

Did you know that crickets are a sustainable alternative protein option? They are.  They use less water, food, and space to produce the same amount of edible product compared to traditional protein meals.  

Crickets are low in carbs, fats, and contain all nine amino acids. And did you know that in flour form, each serving of crickets is 60 percent protein? What an awesome protein source – this type of creative sourcing is something I find fascinating.

From my work with Beakerhead and crickets, a startup company out of Toronto contacted me to create and develop recipes so they can generate market-ready products enriched with cricket flour.  This is avant-garde thinking.  These type of projects are what drives me.  

I have been working with this company for over a year and it’s very exciting and interesting. Our first product is almost at the finishing line.

People are looking for change. They are looking for sustainable protein alternatives. I believe crickets and insects in general will play a big role in the future as a source of protein.

I am also about to begin work with two other separate companies. They are looking to develop products that promote sustainability and wellness through innovative food products. They are avant-garde thinkers committed to making a positive change in the world.  I’m committed to be part of this change. 

I’m also committed to bringing change to WinSport, where I am the Executive Chef. WinSport was one of the main venues for the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. It is now a world-class facility where thousands of people train and participate in mountain-based recreational activities year round.

We host over 1,000 food and beverage events every year. The volume of events is sometimes staggering, with single events feeding sometimes up to 2,000 people or more – it truly is bananas.

With those numbers, it could be easy to take short cuts and let your integrity slide. But I feel lucky because I have the support from management and my team to not let this happen. What I mean by this is – we are supported to use our skills to provide clients with real food experiences. We don’t just open boxes and reheat meals.

This is a statement that is not hard to stand by for smaller establishments- it starts to get tricky with extreme large volumes. 

Throughout my years as a Chef, I have developed deep relationships with local farmers and producers.  I have been at WinSport for a year and a half and was in my previous role for 18 years. I made the change to WinSport as they believed in my creative thinking and supported new ideas.  

I was hired to raise culinary awareness.

Not only do I have the support to continue working with local farmers and producers, but we are now planning an onsite garden and bee hives. This will not only provide honey and produce, but will also be incorporated into our children’s camps. We host more than 5,000 kids for summer camps and we can teach children where their food comes from. This garden and the bee hives will have large impacts. 

The driving force behind avant-garde thinking is straight up rebellion and obsession against the norm.

Avant-garde thinkers challenge artistic conventions and their methods of production. Their ideas are not always well accepted.  They may even be thought of as being “different” or unusual or even frowned upon.

Take my friend Brandon Baltzley who is known as a nomadic American chef who rebels against the rules. I remember him telling me a story of how his obsession with foraging took him deep into a forest. He slept without a tent on the dirt to experience and embody a mushroom.  That’s obsession with creating experiences around food.

Now, me personally, I’m not one to sleep in the dirt and camping is almost a dirty word, BUT I get why Brandon did this.

I have visions everyday on how to translate something onto a plate.

I become obsessed with figuring out how to bring those ideas into the real world for others to understand and experience themselves.

Let’s go back to my point earlier about the simple potato. That connection to a vegetable and the need to create an experience around it takes the avant-garde thinker to a new edge.

It’s about translating a smell, a sound, or a vision onto a plate.  That vision can inspire others to follow or create new visions themselves.  

This is how movements are created and standards are born.  It’s up to avant-garde thinkers like us to have the confidence to inspire movements. 

Sometimes these new paths are radical or aggressive and seem way too crazy for the general population to understand. We see in history that avant-garde thinkers are known as fringe thinkers and are often unpopular in their own time.  It is only later when they are labeled as forward thinkers.

Look at Sous Vide. A physicist first theorized it in 1799.  But it wasn’t until the 1960s that this idea was really developed and turned the culinary world on its head. And even then, it took 20 more years to become a movement.  

Today, you find this a common technique in most kitchens – even for the average household.  Some of our ideas and techniques may seem radical today BUT fast-forward to the year 2090 and they could be standard technique or practice.

Knowing where our ingredients come from and their nutritional value is a topic today promoted by chefs.  Local and ethical sourcing is important but has its own challenges.  Avant-garde thinkers and chefs using their voice as a platform helps push past these challenges and creates change. We can’t be afraid and back away because of a few challenges.

You know that this change is taking hold when schools across the UK are ensuring nutritional lunches and even the big players in fast food like McDonalds in the US provide apple slices and milk as options in a child’s happy meal. 

Now, I know what you are thinking, saying McDonalds is a curse word BUT they are multi-billion dollar company and even they are changing. This demonstrates and proves that avant-garde thinkers influence change in mainstream society.

I am interested in avant-garde thinkers in not just the culinary world, but also in farming and art. I like to take those ideas and visions and push boundaries and bring ideas from multiple disciplines.

For example, I’m inspired by JP’s project with “slow food “– “fast food” organic farming for Ireland. It’s brilliant and to me represents the beginning of change. There is no doubt in my mind he will be successful.  

This is avant-garde thinking. This is what I am talking about.  We need to challenge new ideas and create platforms for change – so we can all move forward. 

We all have the ability to create movements.

Believe in your ideas, even when no one else thinks they are great. Keep believing in your passion – the one that keeps you up all night.  Forget all the nay-sayers and continue pushing for change.

We have the power to influence change together.  Remember, it takes courage to believe in your ideas and the culture that you create around you. 

It takes courage to stay the course through the dark moments and the valley of doubt.  It is a big responsibility, but there is a community of avant-garde thinkers who will help you create new realities. You are not alone share your responsibilities. Inspire others – this is what Food on the Edge is all about.

Thank you JP for this opportunity to be here. It’s inspiring to be in a room full of avant-garde thinkers and share my ideas.