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Whistler Sport Legacies posts first surplus

WSL has grown significantly in recent years by offering product that goes beyond athletics

Brandon Barrett May 11, 2017 1:00 AM

When Roger Soane came onboard as CEO of Whistler Sport Legacies (WSL) four years ago, he knew it was time to tighten the purse strings at the 2010 Olympic venue.

"I knew that we had to start operating within our funding, so that's been the goal ever since, to make sure we're not overspending and we're not contributing more than we're actually bringing in with our funding and revenue," Soane said.

Last year marked the first time the facility was in the black after years of deficits. In all, WSL brought in $4.6 million in revenue in 2016, resulting in a surplus of $539,000, compared to a deficit of $544,000 the year prior. It's forecast to be more than $200,000 in the black in 2017.

Presenting to council at Committee of the Whole in February, Soane painted the picture of a facility, home to the Whistler Sliding Centre and Whistler Olympic Park, that has evolved into more than just an elite training centre for Nordic and sliding sports.

"I'm really impressed at how much you've grown those venues," said Coun. Andrée Janyk following the presentation.

Soane recognized the need to diversify as former Olympic venues around the world fell into disrepair.

"Instead of staying true to the high-performance niche sports, we're opening up our venues to do other things so that people can come and see them but also enjoy participating in different activities," he said.

At the sliding centre, for instance, WSL offers three public programs: bobsleigh, wheel bobsleigh and skeleton that are "growing by leaps and bounds" every year, Soane said.

Olympic Park hosts a number of different activities as well, including cross-country skiing, biathlon, snowshoeing and baseboarding.

"It's exposing (guests) to what I think is one of the best places in Whistler and gets them in the mind that they'll try something else the next time they come out," said Soane. "It's about snow play rather than Nordic sports."

Hollywood has emerged as another important revenue source for WSL. Soane said two commercial films were shot at Olympic Park last year — including the latest instalment in the Planet of the Apes franchise — along with at least five car ads. The park's pristine setting, combined with the fact WSL controls its own hydropower and road system, makes it an ideal backdrop for filmmakers.

"There isn't really a great deal of cost to us, so the flow-through has been excellent on that type of business," Soane said.

Of course, WSL hasn't abandoned its core product. The sliding centre remains one of the world's elite tracks and regularly hosts nations without their own sliding facilities — including the Chinese national team, which will pay WSL roughly $100,000 for training this year. Meanwhile, the Whistler Athletes' Centre, also operated by WSL, has developed into an affordable training and accommodation facility for athletes of all stripes.

"We've had a whole cross-section of different sports that have come up and used Whistler as a training facility," explained Soane.

If WSL is to continue expanding, however, Soane believes senior levels of government will have to take another look at the Games Operating Trust, which distributes no more than five per cent of the value of the $110-million fund each year to three 2010 Olympic venues: the sliding centre, Whistler Olympic Park and the Richmond Olympic Oval.

"Long term, I'm still very concerned with big capital replacement costs. We're not building enough of a surplus to take on big projects that could come up in 10, 15 years from now," said Soane.

Whistler council will consider granting WSL a five-year permissive tax exemption in the amount of $178,127 before Oct. 31.