CALGARY — A pair of World Cup freestyle ski events in Quebec are moving to Alberta.
A moguls and an aerials event originally scheduled to be held at Quebec ski resorts Jan. 23 and Jan. 31, will be combined with a World Cup moguls Jan. 30 in Calgary.
If health authorities sign off on the concept, about 250 international athletes could “bubble” at Canada Olympic Park to avoid contact with the public in the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Freestyle Canada chief executive officer Peter Judge.
Tourism Quebec won’t fund the World Cups, which means the federal government won’t provide matching dollars to operate them.
“It was a funding issue,” Judge said.
“Unfortunately the preliminary comeback from Tourism Quebec was they were not going to be able to support the project, which was really one of the multitude of factors steering us more to the Calgary piece.”
Walling athletes off from the public is easier in Calgary, he added.
“We were already in a weakened position just based on the circumstances of trying to run a World Cup at a major touristic ski resort as opposed to a ski area,” Judge said.
“The logistic challenges of trying to close off and create a bubble scenario at a resort was almost untenable. It would have been extremely difficult to do that.
“At (COP), we’ve got a far easier opportunity to close off any operations and ensure that Calgary health and Canadian health concerns are first and foremost.”
COP hosted its 30th World Cup moguls Feb. 1, but hasn’t staged aerials since 2012.
Mont-Tremblant was scheduled to host moguls and Val Saint-Come the aerials. Both sites are regular stops on the World Cup circuit.
A trio of World Cups in Calgary would likely run Jan. 27-30 if government gives the green light, Judge said.
WinSport, which operates COP, is pursuing a snowsport “double bubble” in 2021.
World Cup snowboard and freestyle halfpipe, slopestyle and big air events proposed for COP in March would bring 500 athletes and coaches to the park on the city’s west side.
FIS, the world governing body of the sport, has labelled the March 5-14 hub in Calgary “to be confirmed” on its 2021 freestyle calendar.
Edmonton’s NHL playoff “bubble” this past summer and the upcoming world junior hockey championships in Alberta’s capital city are test cases for the province in hosting international sports events during a pandemic.
Canada’s mandatory 14-day quarantine for people arriving from outside the country is a barrier. No athlete or coach wants to idle two weeks in a hotel room before a competition.
FIS requires 70 per cent of countries represented by the top 20 halfpipe, slopestyle and big air athletes to participate in order to run a sanctioned World Cup event. For moguls and aerials, it’s 60 per cent.
Alberta’s rapid-testing pilot project at Calgary’s airport could potentially reduce quarantine times if health authorities agree to apply it to incoming athletes.
“Right now it’s limited to Canadians and essential workers that are of foreign nationality, but we did see it as a potential pathway to hopefully use it as a mechanism, again depending on what Alberta Health and Health Canada say,” Judge said.
FIS requires every athlete carry a COVID passport.
“There’s a very stringent testing protocol that goes along with that,” Judge said.
Canadian freestyle skiers and snowboarders won eight medals, including three gold, at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Snowboarder Sebastian Toutant, moguls skier Mikael Kingsbury and halfpipe freestyle skier Cassie Sharpe are the reigning Olympic champions in their respective disciplines.
The 2020-21 season is an important one for all athletes trying to qualify for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.
“Canada gains a pretty significant strategic advantage being able to hold events in Canada, everything from increased quotas to home-field advantage,” Judge said. “We’ve got great courses.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2020.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press