WinSport: A world-class, versatile facility in your own backyard

WinSport winter ski hill

What’s the one thing you think of when asked why WinSport is your choice for a healthy lifestyle?

If it’s because it’s close to home, you’re not alone.

Between skiing and snowboarding in the winter, to a wide range of camps and programs year-round, it’s no surprise Calgarians have chosen WinSport as their home away from home.

But, whether it be due to a lack of knowledge about what is offered, or a relationship made with facilities outside of Calgary, not everyone is aware of what you can do here.

For Mike Tanner, a man who started working at WinSport back in ’86 to look after the ski jumps for the ’88 Olympics and now serves as the executive director of facilities, he has seen it grow into what it is today. He agrees that, sometimes, people get so used to what they have in their own backyard, they can take it for granted.

“Quite often, you can go around Calgary and you hear questions like, ‘Are you still open?’, ‘Is there still snow on the hill?’ when you can see it from the Trans-Canada Highway. So, I mean, I think so very much,” he said.

“It's, once people come here, and they start on that path, once they learn to ski or snowboard, they just keep coming back and then they join some other programs.”

Tanner says he sees a lot of appreciation of the facilities from people who fly into Calgary internationally and realize there’s a world-class facility a short drive from the airport.

“They realize we're 20 minutes from an airport and we have a ski hill. But we can also run world-class competitions as well. And obviously, with the fourplex arenas, and all the things we can do on the ice, I mean, a lot goes on here.”

That appreciation was realized by Johann Kuschke, the program lead for clubs and mountain biking at WinSport. He grew up in Drumheller and would beg his parents to make the trip into the city to be able to use the facilities.

“Every summer we would do about one or two trips to come down here, and it was super big deal for us to travel away from Drumheller, an hour and a half, to two hours away to come and ride at this facility,” he said.

“And back then, it was quite a bit different to what it is now. But just knowing that there are all these amazing, different, lift-accessible trails and it’s a stone's throw away from our hometown was pretty cool.”

Kuschke says his admiration of the facility grew, even more, when he learned just how much more is going on at WinSport, whether it be the year-round camps or the freestyle programs, it made him realize just how unique of a facility it really is.

“The impact it had on me living an hour and a half away, I think that's always kind of stuck with me.”

And he echoes Tanner’s thoughts, that sometimes, a facility such as this one can be taken for granted in a city of more than 1.4 million people.

“I mean, we have such an awesome hill, where you could get probably some of the best lap times I'd say out of other resorts in the area. We have amazing world-class venues and super quick laps on the lift where we're able to hit these jumps, to hit this halfpipe hundreds of times in a day or dozens and dozens of times in a training session.

“So, I think that makes it really unique.”

Another big plus to training at WinSport is the opportunity to keep yourself active during the week.

For many people, getting off work at 5 p.m. and heading out to the mountains isn’t a feasible option. So, staying within city limits allows you to hit the hill for a few hours and get home before dinner.

“It's something you can also do after school, it’s very accessible. So, I mean, I think that's just taking advantage of those opportunities during the weeknights when you can't (drive to the mountains), you know, it gives you something to do on a weeknight,” said Tanner.

Rightfully so, many people in Calgary still associate WinSport and Canada Olympic Park with the ’88 Olympics, but as the years have passed, it has developed its own personality, to continue growing past the Games and become a hub for active living.

“We're still relevant internationally, we're still a place to come and learn,” said Tanner. “We didn't do skiing, or freestyle skiing and snowboarding during the Olympics, but now we do. So, we've moved and evolved into relevant sports as well.”

He cites the expansion of WinSport’s arena complex and program growth as a positive talking point for how things have progressed over the last three decades.

“The fact that we've stayed alive and grown over all these years, it's a good success story for an Olympic venue.”

And the expansions don’t stop at the winter attractions. WinSport continues to run the Monster Zipline, Summer Bobsleigh, 18-hole mini-golf, and more during the summer to give Calgarians activities they can enjoy outdoors, while also trying something totally unique.

“I think just the amount of different things we have to offer really makes it a hub for anyone to want to come and just have a really fun day, you know, whether it's camps, or mini golf, or mountain biking,” said Kuschke.

“I think we have something for everyone. And I think that makes us truly unique from other recreational facilities.”