Larson has risen to the challenge of being a young female leader

Part 1 of a six-part series profiling the Women of WinSport, in recognition of International Women’s Day on March 8th and the impact women have made on WinSport.

internationalwomensday_amberlarson_402x470Amber Larson
Senior Manager, Guest Experience

Years with WinSport: 7.5 years

Amber Larson has not only faced the challenge of being a female in a leadership role, but also the challenges as a young female leader moving up within WinSport.

“Regardless of whether you are male or female, there are always going to be challenges” says Amber, who is just one of a significant number of women to leave their mark on WinSport. “As a woman in leadership, it’s becoming more normal. But combined with the fact that I am a young leader, you have to work harder to gain people’s trust. Once you do, it’s totally fine. But I feel like you have to be a strong-headed person to overcome some of those initial barriers.”

She started at WinSport as a Team Lead in guest services, before moving up to coordinator and manager role. Initially, she was planning to be at WinSport for a good time, not a long time, as her priority was getting her justice degree.

With a degree in hand, however, she just couldn’t bring herself to leave the job she loves so much.

She lists her mom, Cheryl, as having a big influence on her and teaching her the value of determination. As a single parent for eight years of Amber’s life, she had her share of challenges she overcame.

“It really showed me what hard work and determination gets you. She was able to give me the life that I could have had if she wasn’t single,” says Amber. “She showed me how important it was to be supportive of each other. She taught me what it took to become a strong, determined woman.”

She says she has witnessed first-hand about the role WinSport has played in the emergence of women in sport, where 39% of the full-time are women.

“It’s such a great opportunity and it really makes your heart feel good when you see camaraderie, efficiencies, and positive — sometimes complex or complicated — changes meld together for the greater good of the team, WinSport as a whole, and the sport community,” Amber says. “There’s never a dull moment – we all work so hard but have fun every day, and leading a team who truly rally for each other, the guests, sport, and the businesses is really humbling, exciting, and encouraging.”

WinSport is proud to have been named today as one of Alberta’s Top Employers, for the second straight year

img_8117WinSport is proud to have been named today as one of Alberta’s Top Employers, for the second straight year.

The winners were announced this morning by Mediacorp Canada Inc., organizers of the annual Canada’s Top 100 Employers competition.

WinSport is a not-for-profit community-based organization that owns and operates Canada Olympic Park. Our vision is to be a world-leading centre for athletic development. We inspire human potential through the spirit of sport by introducing people to winter and mountain sports, helping them develop their skills and thereby igniting a passion for sport and lifelong learning.

We also develop our people to be the best that they can be.

President and CEO Barry Heck says WinSport focuses on creating opportunities for employees to grow and take on leadership roles within the organization.

“We work very hard at ensuring our resources are marshalled so there are opportunities for those new leaders to emerge,” says Heck. “We have tremendous opportunities for Team Members of all levels to advance. That’s the foundation we’re built on. We call it the WinSport Way.”

WinSport has 140 full-time permanent Team Members, in addition to upwards of 700 seasonal Team Members in the summer and winter season. That’s in addition to more than 400 volunteers. Where else can you ski on your lunch break in winter months or take some mountain bike runs during your day?

“We do everything we can, so our team has a healthy work-life balance and all the tools that are needed to achieve that,” says Heck. “We’re passionate about what we do, committed to excellence in everything we do – and it’s just fun.”

WinSport’s longest-serving Team Member joined the organization prior to the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. WinSport is an organization with diverse business units, with opportunities in sport, food and beverage, operations and corporate areas, including human resources, accounting, marketing and communications.

For more on WinSport, including job opportunities, visit

The winning organizations of the Alberta’s Top Employers come from a range of industries, both private- and public-sector, representing nearly every area of Alberta’s economy.

Employers were evaluated by the editors at Canada’s Top 100 Employers using the same criteria as the national competition: (1) Physical Workplace; (2) Work Atmosphere & Social; (3) Health, Financial & Family Benefits; (4) Vacation & Time Off; (5) Employee Communications; (6) Performance Management; (7) Training & Skills Development; and (8) Community Involvement. Employers are compared to other organizations in their field to determine which offer the most progressive and forward-thinking programs. The annual competition is open to any employer with its head office in Alberta; employers of any size may apply, whether private- or public-sector.

The Swing: An Early Explorers Story


It all started the first week as we enjoyed relaxing and getting to know each other in our hammocks. So many of the children enjoyed the gentle rocking, and it reminded Arlow of an earlier project he had dreamed up before at Early Explorers — a swing!

Soon many of our friends were engaged in this idea, talking about what we would need to build it. Rope, wood, string, and tools were among many of the items we would need. The next week we drew pictures, dreaming up ideas of unicorn swings, flat swings, standing swings and more. We also found a couple of pieces of rope in our classroom and tried tying them to a tall tree branch. This worked well, but it was hard to hold ourselves up.

The next week we found a large piece of wood and a big bag of rope. We used the rope, wood, and with the help of our teacher, tied a big swing to the tree branch. The problem was this swing was wobbly, and hard to tie up! Ms. Brittany then proposed using a tire. We tried our third and final swing, a tire swing. It worked well and many of the children took turns pushing each other and laughing. Our swing became a source of joy, laughter, and imagination.

Watching the children collaborate on a meaningful project early in our time together showed the sense of community each of our Explorers felt immediately in our classroom. Following their interests, the children were supported in their creative undertaking through help, facilitation, and supplies. Most of all, we found a new and creative way to be outside! We had the privilege to engineer fun out of simple yet exciting materials.

Falling For Fall

ecd-blog-novemberWinSport’s Early Explorers program builds on our legacy of fostering resilient, confident, creative and self-directed individuals with some of our youngest of citizens aged 3-8 years old.

Elements critical to the Early Explorers program include a commitment to outdoor play; a deep interest in movement; emergent curriculum; and support risk-taking.

Earlier this semester on a crisp fall morning, our Friday class spent time experiencing the fall leaves. We discovered a large ash tree that had shed most of its leaves in our snowstorm. The children were immediately drawn to it, especially playing in its mountainous piles of leaves.

They started by shuffling around their feet. I saw their interest in the leaves as a perfect play opportunity and halted our plans for the final 45 minutes of the day. I sat amongst the leaves with them, while many of them went to retrieve shovels and rakes from mud kitchen. Soon, we were throwing, gathering, and rolling in the piles of leaves around us. The joy and laughter filled our space. Then we began to pile the leaves, some for jumping, and some for throwing. The children broke off into small groups, negotiating the rules of the piles and collaborating to build bigger and bigger piles. Some children built beds, others made piles for throwing and shoveling.

Abandoning our structure for a short time and just embracing the moment the natural world offered us, allowed us to create amazing memories outside together. Through our leaf play, we found laughter and collaboration. We also found we were learning about working together on common goals, setting boundaries with friends, and developing new creative ways to play with leaves which allowed us to grow. We developed creativity, teamwork and social-emotional skills, all while simply playing in the leaves. Just like when the forest floor is covered in its autumn blanket, in play, we are experiencing that there is always more happening then what appears on the surface.

Supportive parents take centre stage in celebrating Parents in Sport Week

The Sanchez family is the prototypical Canadian family.

Their three boys – Reese, Lucas and Nashten – run their parents ragged with their involvement in sports. From the rink to the baseball diamond, to soccer pitches, basketball courts, martial arts studios, golf courses and ski hills.

Yet, Rob and Theresa wouldn’t have it any other way.sanchez-pic2

“We feel it’s important that they are involved in sport to make sure they are always active and are able to enjoy the social aspects of sport,” says Theresa. “We want to do whatever we can to support them in whatever they are doing.”

While they should be celebrated every day, Rob and Theresa are among the millions of parents across the country that are being celebrated as part of Parents in Sport Week, which runs from Oct. 7-13. It’s all about honouring those parents who play an essential role in supporting children in sport and activity.

WinSport is a proud supporter of parents in sport. The team here sees every day the important role that parents play in supporting their kids in sport or other activities. It goes beyond bankrolling their activities, it’s emotional support, driving to and from practices and games, washing jerseys, providing snacks, organizing tournaments or dozens of other key supports.

Theresa is a member of the WinSport marketing team and not only spends her on-the-job hours at Canada Olympic Park, but hours upon hours with her kids on the ski and snowboard hill or in the Markin MacPhail Centre for hockey. Much of their summers have been spent at WinSport summer camps.

“We try to introduce them to all sorts of sports and try not to focus on one in particular. We want them to be well-rounded and that’s really what we want to teach the kids,” says Sanchez. “As you go through life and into adulthood, you will either play softball or a round of golf. Maybe someone will invite you on a snowboarding trip. We just want them to be able to do a variety of sports.”

Parents in Sport Week is the brainchild of the Child Protection in Sport Unit (CPSU) in the United Kingdom. It celebrates all the parents who help to make youth sport possible by registering their children for programs, driving them to practices and games, providing unconditional support, and more.

“My parents help me with my sports in a lot of ways,” says Nashten, 10. “They always drive me to all of my activities. They help me get my equipment on when I need help, they are always cheering me on and telling me to never give up.”

It’s really important that you are there for the good and the bad.

“It’s really important that you are there for the good and the bad,” says Theresa. “Always give them positive reinforcement, but you have to give them some feedback on things they can improve on. They aren’t always going to be the best players. You want them to grow in their sport, whatever sport they are in. Sport is very emotional, so you just have to be there for them.”

To learn more about Parents in Sport Week follow us on Twitter (@WinSportCanada), Instagram (@WinSportCanada) or Facebook (

Early Explorers: Play with measurable purpose



That word is something everyone can relate to. We can think back to where we played, how much we played, and how it made us feel.

Play helped shape us into who we grew up to be. We know it has purpose, but how do we measure it? More specifically, how do we measure outdoor play?

Outdoor play is open-ended play within a natural environment that allows children to choose what they want to do. WinSport understands its importance to childhood development and facilitates it through the Early Explorers program. These are the four pillars and outcomes that are key to the Early Explorers program and give it purpose:


So, how do we know that these outcomes are being achieved? Well, we developed an evaluation tool that allowed us to observe kids during their outdoor play and count the amount of times we saw an outcome being expressed and record how it was expressed. For example, if a child was seen jumping off a rock, a tally would be marked in the outcome ‘supported risk taking’. We would write down exactly what we saw. And let me tell you, we had some great results!



The graph to the right shows the data that was collected by a teacher from just one class. Each outcome was expressed through various activities. For example, kids were using mud as concrete to reinforce a pirate ship they built. How creative! Despite the rain, kids were happy to play outside, which further develops their relationships with nature. And holy smokes, these kids love to move! Whether they were wolves crawling around or jut kids wanting to climb trees or tables, they were rarely sitting down.




The graph to the left was from the parent’s perspective. At the end of the spring season, we gathered survey responses from the parents and asked them what they think their child’s biggest improvement was from the start of the season. We then related the responses to our program outcomes. We were excited to see that the parents were noticing the benefits of the program, too!

What did we learn?

These responses showed us that our purpose is being achieved! The kids in Early Explorers are receiving quality programming unlike any other. Our emergent curriculum allows us to support kids in a way that encourages outdoor play and fosters intentional childhood development.

Overall, the evaluation tool allowed us to record specific instances of when kids were developing each curriculum outcome. We were then able to compare that data with what the parents thought their children were gaining from the program and the results were similar.

We are thankful to all the parents that answered our survey questions that provided us with further insight about the program. We look forward to the fall season!

Happy exploring,

Early Explorers team



WinSport’s new skills centre will enhance instruction in summer camps and programs

WinSport is always looking for ways it can be better than yesterday in its programming and the WinSport Skills Centre is its latest example.

WinSport's Skills Centre will open for camps and programs in July and to the public in August.
WinSport’s Skills Centre is under construction and will open for camps and program participants in July, and in August for the public. 

The skills centre, which opens July 1, is a progression-based network of cross-country (XC) and flow trails, features and loops for mountain bikers of all ages and abilities.

It’s located on the west side of Canada Olympic Park and will feature nine acres of terrain with 14 trails, which include both technical and flow trails along with two skills loops in green, blue and black levels. The Mountain Bike Skills Centre accompanies the existing downhill trail network to form WinSport Bike Park.

The skills centre will be used in WinSport’s mountain bike and summer camp programming.

Andrew Lunt, WinSport’s Manager of Sport Development, says the skills centre will allow instructors to introduce participants to certain features of the downhill trails, so they are able to take the trails with the proper skillset and confidence.

“We are using the skills centre as a progression-based area. Let’s say the kids don’t know how to take jumps or are not used to going over rocks – the skills centre is going to be used as an area where they can get used to those features and get repetitions in on practicing certain elements,” Lunt explains.

Some of the challenging features of the downhill trails are berms and jumps, which Lunt says can be practiced on in the skills centre.

“We’ll put kids through an area for however long it takes, so they can confidently ride the berm and hit the jumps – if you can do it in the skills centre, then you can do it on the downhill trails.”

Unlike the downhill trails, the skills centre allows instructors to train participants in a focused area so participants can gain confidence and improve their skills in a shorter period of time and in a safer environment.

“It allows instructors to teach skills more effectively and allows the kids to progress at their own pace where they don’t have to worry about another group whipping down behind them,” Lunt explains.

Lunt says the skills and confidence riders will gain in the skills centre extends beyond what riders can accomplish at WinSport’s Bike Park.

“When people go to West Bragg Creek, Canmore or Moose Mountain, they’ll find the same features and they’ll and be confident enough to ride them because of the repetitions they’ve had in the skills centre,” Lunt says.

For more information on the WinSport Skills Centre, visit:

A guide to workout supplementation

By Kent Bastell, MSc, CSCS Strength and Conditioning Coach

Everyday we are bombarded with information regarding nutrition science, especially as it applies to workouts/training. Below is a guide of supplements that I take and regularly recommend to my clients.supplements

Multivitamin – Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) can be acquired by eating a balanced diet, however, I do not know too many people that eat the correct variety of foods to fulfill the requirements. Micronutrients are the foundation for almost all the body’s processes such as growth, metabolism, immune system, energy production, etc. I always recommend getting vitamins in capsule form, instead of tablet form, as the tablet is hard to digest. I personally use the Total Defense 2.0 from

Omega 3 (fish oil) – Omega 3 and Omega 6 are essential fatty acids (our bodies do not naturally produce it – we must ingest it). Omega 6 is thought to be necessary for inflammation, while omega 3 is thought to be anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is a natural part of the body’s defense system, but we know that chronic inflammation can lead to many chronic disease-states. The North American diet usually sees people eat a ratio of 20:1 Omega 6 vs. Omega 3s, meaning that our diets have become pro-inflammatory. The recommended ratio is 2:1 to 4:1. Supplementing with Omega 3s can help balance this ratio. Omega 3 supplementation has been linked to improvements in cognition, brain aging, ADHD, mental illness, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular health, nerve pain, arthritis and more. I prefer to ingest fish oil in liquid form, rather than in a capsule.

Pre-workout: Caffeine – Ingesting caffeine 30 minutes before working out found an increase in physical and mental performance. One to two espresso shots, or a cup of Matcha green tea have enough caffeine to see benefits. Taking pre-workout supplements such as C4 powder or high-sugar energy drinks are typically unnecessary for most people/athletes that workout/train. Caffeine pills are likely excessive, but have been found to be effective at lower doses.

During Workout: Branch chain amino acids (BCAA) – BCAA’s are a broken-down version of a protein molecule. Think of protein as a train. It’s one big linked unit with a string of railcars attached to one another. BCAAs work as if each individual railcar was stripped of its bond and existed on its own. When we digest protein this “stripping of the bonds” occurs to utilize the nutrient. Therefore, BCAAs are more readily available to use than protein itself. Some studies have shown BCAAs have a positive effect on muscle growth and recovery, prevents muscle loss, and may increase energy in athletic performance. However, some researchers are skeptical of BCAAs stating that “as long as you are getting enough protein supplementation during the day, you should get the same effect.” I still recommend people use it to make sure they’re filling any gaps they may have.

After Workout: Protein + carb combination – Have you ever heard of chocolate milk being the best post workout drink? The reason behind this is the carbohydrate + protein combo in this drink. When we train, it stresses our body out and activates the sympathetic nervous system, which releases stress hormones. Prolonged stress in our body causes muscles to breakdown. Eating carbs helps to deactivate the sympathetic nervous system, which pulls our body away from stress. Protein availability helps stimulate muscle protein synthesis, meaning muscle recovery will be enhanced. Another example of a good post-workout meal is a banana blended into a protein shake.

Creatine: Creatine unfairly has a bad reputation. In my opinion, many of the negative results that suggest it is harmful for your liver and kidneys were cherry-picked from studies with poor methodology. There has been little to no human research to support this. Creatine is also found natural in many foods, especially meats. About 90- 95% of creatine is stored in muscles. It acts by binding to and storing phosphates, which in its final form, is called phosphocreatine. Phosphocreatine is used to produce a large amount energy at a fast rate. If you need to sprint away from a bear, your body will use its phosphocreatine first to give you a big initial energy burst (for about 10-15s). Benefits of creatine include increased recovery from high-intensity training, improved athletic strength and power output, and enhanced muscle recovery. No research has been done on the effects of creatine during growth, so I usually recommend people be 18 before they take it. But for a mature amateur or elite lifter, I think it’s a necessity to cycle during the year, especially during the most intense sessions/blocks.

*For any extreme changes in diet, or for people with chronic illnesses it is always recommended to consult a physician or dietician first. This article is not intended to replace the advice of these professionals.

WinSport’s Free Summer Camp Kickoff Family Open House gives parents and kids an inside look at why outdoor play is so important

WinSport has continued to invest and enhance its summer camps this year and wants parents and kids to see what the new camps are all about at its FREE summer camp kick-off on Friday, June 21.

WinSport's Summer Camp Kickoff Open House features activities for all camp activities – 16 in total – for ages 3-15. They are some of the activities featured in our hockey, sport development, wildhood nature, bikes and blades and trampoline camps.
WinSport’s Summer Camp Kickoff Open House features activities for all camp activities – 16 in total – for ages 3-15. They are some of the activities featured in our hockey, sport development, wildhood nature, bikes and blades and trampoline camps.

“This is a great opportunity for parents to meet instructors and gain an understanding of what their children will experience and learn at camp,” says Jennifer Konopaki, WinSport’s Director, Sport Leadership. “Summer is a precious time for families. We want parents to walk away feeling confident that they made the right choice for their child in registering in a WinSport camp. School is out, and summer is time for children to be engaged in active, outdoor play where they get to have fun with their friends.”

The kick-off features activities for all camp activities – 11 in total – for ages 3-15. They are some of the activities featured in our hockey, sport development, wildhood nature, bikes and blades and trampoline camps.

WinSport has been running camps for more than 20 years, so as you can imagine, a camp today is very different than it was back in the ’90s. That’s because our programming is dynamic and innovative – the team incorporates the latest research and best practices to ensure an optimal learning and quality sport experience. Today, kids are attached to technology through their phones, iPads and TVs and it can be detrimental for their development – both socially and physically. That’s why our camps focus on getting kids off their screens and back outside, Konopaki says.

“It’s one of the reasons why we changed our camps and did so by focusing on outdoor play to ensure the health and well-being of the next generation,” she says.

You and your child will experience this at the kick-off. The hands-on approach will allow kids to try activities and interact with instructors, so you know which one best fits your child’s interest. Sessions take place from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on June 21. These sessions will allow the entire family to truly experience what our camps have to offer so you can see which one fits your kids.

You can register your family here.

We believe good things happen when kids play and we are confident you will, too. We hope to see you at our Summer Camp Kick-Off Family Open House.

If you would like to browse our camp guide or purchase a camp, click here.



Protein: Are you getting enough?

By Kent Bastell, MSc, CSCS Strength and Conditioning Coach

Nutrition is a hot topic in the world of fitness and we’ve reached a point in society where it has become hard to filter out the solid evidence based information from the “magic” diet and food revolution. What people fail to realise is that the real magic diet is the one that is flexible to your own personal needs and is sustainable as a lifelong habit. One such habit that may be beneficial is protein consumption.protein

A common question I ask athletes/clients is “how much protein are you eating?” After listing all the foods they typically consume in a day, we usually come to the conclusion: “not enough”

Why is protein important?

  1. Protein provides the building blocks for developing, growing, and maintaining almost every body system – Organs, hormones, muscles, bones, skin, enzymes, immune cells and neural messengers are just some of the systems that rely on protein.
  2. Protein builds and maintains our skeletal structures – For athletes and those who workout, protein is important for building muscle and bone (increases strength) and aids in recovery after activity. For general health, protein can slow muscle and bone loss due to aging (after age 30, people tend to lose 3% to 5% of their lean body mass per decade).
  3. Protein makes you feel full – Protein increases the demand of energy needed for digestion and suppresses hormones that drive the feelings of hunger. The thermic effect of protein digestion can be up to 20%, meaning your body uses up to 20% of the calories consumed by the protein source to digest it. These characteristics of protein help people maintain weight as it leaves less room for calorie dense foods.
  4. Protein increases energy – Protein is a foundation of neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and dopamine, which help increase the feelings of energy and alertness.

So how much protein should you be getting to gain from these benefits of protein? In my own experience, I find that people benefit most from consuming 0.5 grams to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you should aim for between 75 grams and 150 grams of protein per day. I tend to be a bit less conservative and try to get people to experiment with the higher end ranges, especially if they are athletes, or are weight training. To ensure you are getting enough protein, I always recommend using a food diary to track intake. The MyFitnessPal app is a great tool that contains a database of hundreds of thousands of different foods and brands. It will automatically calculate how much protein you have consumed from your diary inputs.

41 High-Protein Foods Ranked By Protein Content Per 100g

  1. Beef jerky 30-40g
  2. Parmesan 32g
  3. Tuna steak 32g
  4. Pumpkin seeds 30g
  5. Turkey 30g
  6. Peanuts 25-28g
  7. Edam 27g
  8. Canned tuna 25g
  9. Cheddar 25g
  10. Seitan 25g
  11. Beef 20-24g
  12. Chicken 24g
  13. Salmon 24g
  14. Stilton 24g
  15. Almonds 21g
  16. Sardines 21g
  17. Cod 20g
  18. Lamb 20g
  19. Mackerel 20g
  20. Pistachios 20g
  21. Pork loin 17-20g
  22. Tempeh 20g
  23. Cashew nuts 18g
  24. Mozzarella 18g
  25. Mussels 18g
  26. Chia seeds 17g
  27. Walnuts 15-17g
  28. Prawns 15-18g
  29. Quorn mince 14.5g
  30. Brazil nuts 14g
  31. Edamame beans 13g
  32. Eggs 13g
  33. Tofu 12g
  34. Cottage cheese 10g
  35. Greek yogurt 10g
  36. Oats 10g
  37. Lentils 7-9g
  38. Kidney beans 8g
  39. Chickpeas 7g
  40. Peas 6g
  41. Quinoa (cooked) 5g

Disclaimer: This is not to be used in place of medical advice. For any extreme changes in diet, it is suggested for individuals to get approval by an accredited physician or dietician.