Red Deer’s Julia Roth (left) looks on as her three-year-old daughter Elaina has snowshoes put on by Kelly Bogle at River Bend Golf and Recreation Area Friday afternoon. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing was free from noon to 3 p.m. to celebrate the opening of River Bend’s upgrades. (Photo by SEAN MCINTOSH/Advocate staff)

WATCH: Red Deer’s River Bend upgrades officially open

River Bend Golf and Recreation Area is the latest venue to be upgraded for next year’s Canada Winter Games.

Red Deerians had the chance to try free snowshoeing and cross-country skiing Friday at River Bend when upgrades to the cross-country skiing course and biathlon range were officially opened.

River Bend will host cross-country and biathlon events at the Canada Winter Games. The games has allowed Red Deer to upgrade many venues in the city, said Mayor Tara Veer.

“Securing the games for the community has meant we’ve been eligible for infrastructure dollars which has enabled us to elevate the amenities at River Bend to a national sporting standard,” Veer said.

The games has “served as a catalyst to modernize what is already a much-loved and sought after community amenity,” she said.

READ MORE: One year away from the 2019 Canada Winter Games

Select trails were widened, the biathlon range was renovated and a stadium area for spectators and timing cabin were constructed.

The upgrades, which have been completed over the past year, cost about $930,000; the Canada Winter Games Society covered a bit more than half of the costs.

Sport venue upgrades will make Red Deer a more attractive location for other major sporting events, Veer said.

“The impact of the games has had an exponential effect in terms of Red Deer’s national and international reputation for sports tourism,” she said.

River Bend is the “crown jewel” of Red Deer’s park system, Veer added.

The biathlon range is in action this weekend with the North American Cup, Western Canadian Championships and Calforex Biathlon Cup Saturday and Sunday. This will be a test event for the games.

READ MORE: NorAm Western Canadian Cross Country Ski Championships

Scott Robinson, 2019 Canada Winter Games CEO, said events like this are important because they need to know how to prepare for the less common sports.

“Sports like (biathlon) … are very complicated and need to learn about some of the intricacies,” he said.

Robinson said biathlon athletes competing in this weekend’s event have shared their excitement for the new course.

“Biathlon venues are not easy to build and they’re not common. Having one here in Central Alberta … is already proving to be something everybody’s looking forward to,” he said.

River Bend hosted a cross-country test event – the combined Haywood NorAm Western Canadian Championships and Peavey Mart Alberta Cup 5/6 – in January.

More than 400 volunteers have signed up for the Canada Winter Games so far; 5,000 volunteers are needed.

Robinson said he hopes to have a volunteers centre open soon in Red Deer.

There will be many more announcements before the games, said Robinson. One of those announcements will be a medal designing contest.

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Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer and city manager Craig Curtis unveil a plaque to commemorate the official opening of the River Bend Golf and Recreation Area upgrades Friday afternoon. (Photo by SEAN MCINTOSH/Advocate staff)

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