Preparations for the 2019 Canada Games in Red Deer have hit their first snag, with ice on the speedskating oval not being of competition quality.
While City of Red Deer workers were previously able to create great speedskating ice on natural ground, they are now having a hard time recreating this smooth surface on the artificial turf the oval is being built on at Great Chief Park.
Sarah Cockerill, the city’s director of community services, believes weather extremes this winter have hindered the process. She said, “Last year we did a test plot, so we knew we could do it.”
But the ground wasn’t quite frozen when work on the speedskating track was started during an unusual mild spell, she explained. Then temperatures dropped steeply just as the ice began to freeze in mid-December. As a result, Cockerill said air bubbles were created as oxygen was released from the ground.
The rough ice was removed from the oval, and test plots were created to test various ways of laying down new ice in hopes of getting a better result.
With four weeks of ice-making weather left this winter, Cockerill said, “we’re doing our best and consulting with the best team of experts,” including architects and engineers in Europe who have experience in laying ice down on top of artificial turf.
She believes the city will be competition ready in 2019. “We haven’t gotten to the contingency stage yet…”
Disappointment over the loss of a training/competition venue in the crucial winter before the Games was expressed by the Red Deer Central Lions Speed Skating Club in a release: “We lost an important outdoor long-track training season… (and) the opportunity for publicity in a year when we are rebuilding.”
The club also mentioned the loss of the annual long-track competition, which was to be a Canada Winter Games Test Event and the inaugural Jeremy Wotherspoon Open Long-Track Meet. “Our members were all looking forward to being in the new facility and training there.”
The competition planned for Jan. 20-21 was cancelled after the city notified the club that sufficient ice quality could not be guaranteed. The club was later notified there would be no oval ice available at all this year, and had to cancel a second meet.
Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said the city is “equally frustrated” that work on the speedskating oval hasn’t gone as expected, but “it is my understanding this will be fully resolved by next winter.” Veer noted the city will still have a long-standing legacy project to benefit local speed skaters in years to come.
This legacy aspect of the new speedskating track, and Red Deer’s history of being able to create “great ice,” was acknowledged in the speed-skating club’s statement, which also expressed optimism about having a great outdoor season next year “in what will be one of the best speedskating facilities in the country.”
The total project at Great Chief Park, including service upgrades, artificial turf, the new Setters Place pavilion and change rooms, and the speed-skating oval cost $12.3 million.
Scott Robinson, CEO of the 2019 Canada Winter Games Committee, said the City of Red Deer is working hard to find a solution, and he’s confident competition-level ice will be had by next winter.
Robinson added there’s still time to hold a test event on the oval in late December, or in January 2019, before the games begin.