‘Ottawa’ Ottawa 2017 Crashed Ice Skating Spectacle Years in the Making
In 1922, the main attraction at the inaugural Ottawa Winter Carnival was a giant ski and toboggan slide that extended from the Château Laurier all the way down to the icy expanse of the Ottawa River.
Thrillseekers paid a dime to take the plunge down a chute that fell at a daring 45-degree angle and ran alongside the Rideau Canal locks, sometimes reaching speeds in excess of 100 km/h.
It’s an image Guy Laflamme clung to year after year as he patiently and persistently tried to convince Red Bull to bring its famed Crashed Ice skating race to Ottawa as part of the city’s 2017 celebrations.
The Ottawa 2017 Bureau boss says he first travelled to Quebec City nine years ago to watch the race and meet the promoters, hoping to persuade them to bring it to the capital. When he finally convinced them to visit about three years ago, he made his pitch by walking them down by the locks and pointing out all the key landmarks nearby, including the Parliament Buildings, National Gallery and Museum of History.
He also had to persuade the National Capital Commission, Public Works and Parks Canada, which manages the locks.
Construction is now underway on a 300-metre track, which begins from a scaffolding perch about four metres above the Château Laurier’s outdoor terrace, makes a sharp twist near Wellington Street and then plunges down the locks toward the river. There may be other twists and turns as well, but the detailed plan for the course is kept under wraps until closer to the race.
It will be one of the most technically challenging courses skaters have faced, says Laflamme.
It’s the 1920s toboggan run on steroids, he jokes. But sorry kids, you can’t ride it for a dime.
Ice cross downhill claims to be the fastest sport on skates. Athletes plunge down a track filled with drops, hairpin turns and gaps at speeds of up to 80 km/h. They compete in groups of four, pushing, sliding and sprinting to the bottom, trying to collect the most points and be crowned world champion at season’s end.
The road to Ottawa, site of next month’s championships, included stops in France, Finland and the United States.
Laflamme says the event will let Ottawa show off the canal and the city’s love for skating in a new and edgy way, while also offering a nod to history by holding it in the same place as that famous toboggan run.
Plus, the capital’s most beautiful and iconic landmarks will form the backdrop in the national and international television coverage.
“We couldn’t dream of a better scenario,” he said. “If we want to really set the tone and demonstrate that (Ottawa 2017) is about presenting a more vibrant image, this fits all our criteria.”
Ottawa 2017, which is funded by three levels of government and corporate sponsors, is paying Red Bull $1.1 million to bring the two-day event to town. It’s also picking up the tab for police, paramedics, street closures and re-routing OC Transpo buses.
But Laflamme says the company in return will invest millions more here on track construction, promotion, ice and snow removal, and all the necessary permits. The event is also free for spectators, he notes, so locals and visitors can spend more money at restaurants and hotels.
There will be numerous places to take in the action.
The space along either side of the locks, which Laflamme calls “the bowl,” will hold some 20,000 people, he says. “That’s where the diehard fans will want to be located.” Videos from previous Crashed Ice events show people banging on the boards as skaters whiz by.
Large screens will also be set up in Major’s Hill Park and on York Street in the ByWard Market. For the March 4 grand finale, where the 2016-17 champion will be crowned, there will also be screens on Wellington Street, which will be closed for the day between Mackenzie Avenue and Elgin Street.
VIP tickets selling for $290 each provide exclusive access to the Château Laurier’s terrace, which is immediately adjacent to the track.
Based in Austria, Red Bull has parlayed its popular energy drink into a massive global company valued at $7.9 billion.
The company has its own television channel and is aligned with numerous extreme sports and music festivals. It launched Crashed Ice in 2001.