After 2002 Winter Olympics

The Utah Olympic Park Slide Track was built for the bobsled, skeleton, and luge events at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Carefully crafted to meet demanding competition requirements and limit impact to the land and its wildlife, the slide track’s course follows the mountain’s natural contours, allowing it to blend in with the landscape. Today the track serves as a training center for Olympic & Paralympic National Team members and developing athletes, hosts numerous local and international competitions, and offers exhilarating bobsled rides to the general public.

Refrigeration Issues in 2019

In 2019, the World Cup bobsled and skeleton event was cancelled due to mechanical issues at the Utah Olympic Park track. This was a huge  disappointment for all parties involved. The event had to be moved from Park City, Utah to Lake Placid, New York. Although World Cup events do occasionally get cancelled due to equipment issues or weather conditions, this was the first time Utah Olympic Park had to cancel a major event in their 18-year history. Changing the venue was not without cost, as bobsleds had to be shipped to Lake Placid, and athletes’ travel arrangements had to be changed. Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation (UOLF), which manages the Utah Olympic Park, was transparent with the issues they experienced throughout the process of switching venues and was consistent in their resolution to fix the issues and make Park City the premier world-class slide track.

The refrigeration problem with the cooling of the middle section of the one-mile track had persisted for a couple of years. During the summer of 2019, the operations team at UOP replaced hundreds of valves that control the flow of heat-extracting ammonia in an attempted remedy, but did not observe positive results. In the end, they reached a conclusion that the problem originated back down to the plant refrigeration pumps. Because the original pumps were custom-made in Germany, replacements would take months to arrive.

Getting Ready for 2030 Winter Olympics

In March 2020, the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation selected ETC Group for evaluating and improving their Slide Track operating systems. “We are well aware that our bobsled, luge and skeleton track refrigeration system is both a rare and complex environment,” says Calum Clark, Chief Operating Officer of Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation. “The improvements the ETC team have made to our track will greatly improve all aspects of the operations and will help our foundation serve the Winter Olympic sporting community for future generations of these sports on this legacy infrastructure from the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.”

The main goal of the project is to bring the UOP facility back to “world-class levels” suitable for hosting its second Winter Olympics in 2030.[i] ETC Group assessed the refrigerant system of the 25-year-old slide track and came up with a design to modernize it and replace worn-out and  outdated controls. “It will be a multi-phase project,” says ETC Group’s Business Development Manager, Bob Hooper, “but we aim to equip the track with one of the most technologically-advanced sliding track control systems in the world.”

The original 1995 pumps have been replaced. Having backup pumps ready in case of possible mechanical failure was crucial for the future events.

In Phase 1 of the Slide Track Optimization project, the focus was to make the track ready to perform reliably for the 2020 slide track season. This involved transforming the most problematic middle zone of the track section with a fully-operational Refrigeration Controls System. This new system includes one main panel in the Ammonia Plant with new track temperature sensors and automatic refrigerant valves replacing manually operated valves. It also included installation of a new  fiber-optic communication network. To make the system more reliable and minimize mechanical failure, a new track control system with more real-time information was critical. ETC Group uses an analytics platform, BuildingFit, to quickly extract and analyze system data to detect specific issues and verify/improve system performance. Collecting this actionable data in one unified platform will allow resolution of existing refrigeration system issues, as well as continued maintenance and optimization of overall system performance.

New stainless steel piping is insulated with embossed aluminum jacketing.

Like any other projects of this scale, the UOP sliding  track project has been truly a team effort. ETC Group has  assembled a world-class team with a wealth of slide track project experience.“ A big part of the project was renovating the plant’s safety controls,” says ETC Group’s Jim Crockett, the Principal Engineer of the project. “Harris, our controls subcontractor, brought the ammonia safeties up to date.” The pumps were installed by Kemper Northwest, with the wiring for disconnect and reconnect completed by Skyline Electric Company. “ETC presented a group of best in class specialist contractors to upgrade and improve our refrigeration system. We are extremely pleased with our decision to select ETC Group as our partner to deliver our sliding track refrigeration upgrade,” says Calum. “We are very happy that they lived up to this commitment.”

ETC Group’s overall goal for the next phases of the project is to explore more environmentally friendly solutions for refrigerant and have the entire slide track ‘Olympic-Ready’ by 2027 in preparation for 2030 Winter Olympics. One of the next steps will include replacing of 400,000 watts of track lighting with LED in partnership with Vivid Energies to save energy usage and reduce environmental impact on wildlife.

Ice-making of the track in preparation of the 2020 winter season is officially scheduled for late-October, 2020.

[i] Cities/regions that expressed interests include Barcelona-Pyrenoes (Spain, Andorra and France), Sapporo, Japan and Salt Lake City, Utah. The winning bid for the 2030 Winter Olynpics host city will be announced at the 140th IOC session in Mumbai, India in 2023.

References:

Lee Juillerat, “Olympic Dreams Are Alive and Well at The Utah Olympic Park,” Herald and News, February 21, 2014: https://www.heraldandnews.com/news/olympic-dreams-are-alive-and-well-at-the-utah-olympic-park/article_708dbe7c-9ab5-11e3-a8f0-0019bb2963f4.html

Julie jag, “Utah Olympic Park Scratches Two Big Events Because of Refrigeration Issues, But Its Reputation Only Gets Cooler.” The Salt Lake Tribune, November 19, 2019: https://www.sltrib.com/sports/2019/11/19/utah-olympic-park/

Alex Cabrero, “Local News: World Cup Bobsled & Skeleton Event in Park City Moved Due to Mechanical Issues.” KSL TV, November 1, 2019: https://ksltv.com/424966/world-cup-bobsled-skeleton-event-in-park-city-canceled-due-to-mechanical-issues/