Downtown braces for icy blast

The City of Ottawa will kick off its high-profile Canada 150 events with the sharp sizzle of skates on ice in March, when downtown will be transformed into a downhill ice-cross track for a Red Bull Crashed Ice event.

The two-day event, scheduled to take place March 3-4, will feature a course centred around the Rideau Canal locks and Fairmont Château Laurier hotel.

“This is an exciting event for Ottawa, and Fairmont Château Laurier will be in the heart of the action, so we anticipate it being very lively around the castle,” said hotel spokesperson Deneen Perrin. “It is about more than just our hotel — it is about the entire city and the wonderful promotion it brings Ottawa.”

While congestion around the area is a concern, another challenge will be the creation of the sloped, winding ice track on which its racers skate.

“They’ll have to have some sort of compressor system, to pump glycol under the ice — you can’t skate on water,” said City of Ottawa ice manager Tyler McDonald. “They obviously won’t have a zamboni, so you have to do home floods — a fine mist or spray — otherwise water will accumulate at low points.”

Temperatures in the national capital region typically hover at or just below zero in early March, which could limit the naturally-aided freezing process Crashed Ice benefits from at other tour stops in Quebec City and northern Europe.

“If they have a proper refrigeration system, they should be able to make consistent ice from the top of the track to the bottom here,” continued McDonald. “If they can make NHL-quality ice for outdoor games in California, then I’m sure they can make an ice-cross-calibre surface here.”

Assuming the intricacies of ice-making are successfully managed, the international event’s first-ever stop in Ottawa could be an economic and touristic boom.

Construction on the temporary track and surrounding venue is expected to begin in mid-February.

“The end result could be positive economically,” said Lucas Cacciotti, a sport marketing professional currently serving as vice president of the city’s Summer Hockey League. “People are going to come to our city, rent our facilities, go out to bars and restaurants, and boost our economy.”

As part of the larger Canada 150 celebrations, the event will also mark the first major ice-cross event in the capital.

“Next year the city’s goal is to make Ottawa an attraction as part of Canada’s big birthday party,” explained Cacciotti. “It’s going to diversify Ottawa’s sports portfolio, while giving Red Bull another market for its Crashed Ice brand — a win for all parties involved.”

As the fourth and final stop on this year’s Crashed Ice tour, the Ottawa event will end with the crowning of an ice-cross world champion.

Canadian Scott Croxall — the tour’s 2015 champion — remains the odds-on favourite, though he will face stiff competition from American Cameron Naasz, who edged him for the title on last year’s tour. Europeans Tristan Dugerdil (France) and Luca Dallago (Austria) could also be in contention after top-5 finishes in 2016.