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Red Bull 400 coming to Whistler Olympic Park this summer

Race popular in Europe to make Canadian debut
bullish prospects Competitors are shown at a Red Bull 400 event in Kuopio, Finland last May. Photo by Victor Engstrom/red bull content pool

It's going to be an uphill challenge for extreme athletes — literally.

The Red Bull 400 is preparing for its Canadian debut at Whistler Olympic Park on July 19.

Organizers with Red Bull originally announced the race on their website on April 20.

Race director Geoff Langford first heard about the steep races, which incline for 400m along a ski jump, from business partner and ultrarunner Gary Robbins. Knowing Red Bull was hoping to bring the races to Canada after successful runs in places like Finland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic since its 2011 debut, they all got together to make it happen.

"Whistler just seemed to be the place to bring it, so we made it happen," Langford said. "There's not a lot of options for the kind of location for an event like this. COP (Canada Olympic Park) in Calgary has a jump similar to the terrain and Lake Placid in the U.S. is going to be hosting a race later this year as well.

Because the ski jump will be the course, organizers will need to make some modifications to the course, such as covering the refrigeration units and other infrastructure associated with the winter programming.

"Obviously, the terrain is built for jumping down in the winter, not running up in the summer, so there are a few modifications that we need to do," he said. "The lower section is packed dirt and grass, so it'll be fine, (just) a bit of tough scrambling.

"There's a gap between the top and bottom sections of the run, so we have to bridge that gap with a bit of a ramp as well."

Whistler Sport Legacies CEO Roger Soane said the organization is glad the park was selected and will help for the event to go off, adding they will provide an engineer to help ensure the additions will be safe and secure.

"They're going to use our facility and we're going to help them build the structure that they need to facilitate the race," he said.

There will be three categories offered — full distance and two 4x100m relays. One relay is co-ed, while the other is for firefighters, police officers and EMS personnel. The entry cost is $40 a person for solo participants and $100 per team.

Registration is capped at 400 participants, and Langford noted 40 people had already signed up. Langford said the hope is the event will be successful enough to hold it annually.

Cash prizes will be given to the top three males and top three females, while the top in each event will receive a trip to Europe with all the winners of the other competitions around the world. Langford said the destination has been determined, but is not at liberty to say, as the winners only find out shortly before they leave.

"This is something they're doing for the first year to create excitement for the event," he said.

WSC trumpets "most successful" season

The Whistler Sliding Centre didn't set a record for descents in 2014-15, but Soane still feels the year was an incredibly strong one for the 2010 Olympic legacy venue.

Noting there were nearly 20,000 descents in the year leading up to the Olympics because of extra international training and just over 17,000 this year, he's happy with how the types of slides have diversified. As well, the number increased by about 2,000 descents compared to the previous winter in large part because of more people taking part in the Thunder on Ice and Lightning on Ice public bobsleigh and skeleton programs.

"I would say it was our most successful year ever for a number of reasons," he said. "We've expanded our public ride-program from 3,200 (descents) two years ago to just under 6,000 this year."

One downside of this past season was the loss of top-notch competition, as there were no World Cup races here, though the Junior and Youth A Luge World Cups took place here in December. Soane anticipates receiving World Cup luge and bobsleigh events next winter.