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.

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 26 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.”

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.

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.

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.


Proper ski and snowboard tuning makes for a smooth, safe day on the hill

By: Daniel Benner, Team Lead of WinSport’s Rental Shop and certified Ski technician.

With the snow already hitting the mountains, it’s almost time to take the skis and snowboard out of storage for the winter and get ready for the first rip down the hill. Like any piece of equipment, the steps you take to properly prepare your skis or snowboard will be the difference between a smooth or rough first day out.

Perform an inspection

Skis and snowboards take a real beating in the latter part of the season in any year due to the increased exposure to rocks, vegetation and soil as the snowpack diminishes. If you inspect your skis and snowboard when you bring them out of storage, you’ll probably notice that the edges are rough, which happens when you inadvertently ride over rocks or gravel. For the same reasons, the base might be scratched or even gouged. In addition, you may notice it looks dull with a faint whiteness, which is an indication that the base is oxidizing, or drying out. All these reasons are indications you should get your ski or snowboard tuned at a certified shop.

WinSport’s Tech Shop services include complete tunes including base and edge tunes, waxing, binding adjustments, binding testing and general repairs.

Edge tuning

If your edges are rough or rusted from winter storage, it’s a good indication they need a tune. Any certified shop can sharpen edges on skis and snowboards with a specialized machine. Most importantly, this will ensure you’ll be able to carve effectively into the snow while turning which helps you stay on your feet! It also will remove any rust that may have formed during winter storage. Typically, shops will sharpen to factory specifications, but technicians will also race tune skis upon request, which makes the base bevel at more of a degree so the skier or snowboarder can perform more aggressive turns.

Base grind / base patching

If your base is not looking smooth or has large gouges in it, it may be a good idea to have a certified technician assess the base and determine the best course of action. Depending on how deep the scratches or gouges are, a base grind – which involves putting the ski or snowboard through a machine which grinds down the base ever so slightly – makes the base completely flat and smooth once again. This not only helps with slide, but also improves control. Depending on the depth of specific gouges, the technician may also use a patching solution as well. Additionally, a base grind will leave a pattern in the base material that allows it to be more porous for wax absorption.


Waxing skis and snowboards accomplishes two things – increases the longevity of the base and, allows the ski or snowboard to slide more freely in snow.

There are two types of waxing application – machine wax and hand wax. Machine waxing is a great way to get a quick wax at a cheaper price, but the wax won’t last as long nor will it penetrate into the base of the ski. While both methods allow the ski or snowboard to slide more freely on snow, a hand wax will last longer and will penetrate into the ski, which prevents drying out or oxidation.

One of WinSport’s ski technicians uses the binding calibration machine to ensure the ski binding releases at the correct DIN setting.

Ski binding test

Bindings are one of the most important components of a ski, allowing the boot attachment to connect with the ski and equally if not more importantly, release the boot when required. When purchasing or renting skis, the ski technician will set the DIN – the industry standard scale for release force settings for ski binding – which is based on skier ability, weight and height. Simply put, this calculation is crucial to the skier being able to ski at their ability without the ski releasing prematurely, while at the same time, releasing at a time which will prevent a serious injury to the knee. However, over time, wear, debris and temperature fluctuations can affect spring tension within the binding, which means the ski will not release at the intended DIN setting. Therefore, a check is needed to see if a binding releases at its DIN setting, or if it needs to be recalibrated. Some shops, including ours at WinSport, have a ski binding calibration machine, which shows what setting the ski is actually releasing at. If different than what the DIN setting is, the ski technician will recalibrate the binding so it releases at the true DIN setting. We recommend that bindings are tested every season.

Following all of these steps will help you kick off the ski and snowboard season on the right foot! Throughout the season, it’s a good idea to wipe down your skis and snowboards of all debris and melted snow to avoid problems with bindings and edges rusting and on average, try to bring them in for a wax every three full days on the mountain.

Daniel Benner and his team of certified technicians are located at the WinSport Tech Shop in the Frank King Day Lodge. Services include complete tunes including base and edge tunes, waxing, binding adjustments, binding testing and general repairs.