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What happens when extreme sports and engineering collide (not literally)?

March 03, 2017

By Ramez Sidaros

Red Bull’s Crashed Ice needed some creative engineering to help celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday

It’s the fastest sport on skates—and it’s crashing into Ottawa today as part of the Ottawa 2017 celebrations. Red Bull Crashed Ice, the Ice Cross Downhill World Series Season Finale, comes to Canada’s capital city today to mark the yearlong celebrations for Canada’s 150th birthday.

As the crowd of about 100,000 people watches some of the world’s best and toughest skaters shoot down a massive ice track at speeds of up to 80 km/h, jostling for first place, taking hairpin turns, and leaping over drops, they may not think about what’s happening under those skates—and their own feet—to make an extreme event like this possible. That’s where engineers come in!

Photo credit: Patrick Haag

I’m a structural engineer with Stantec and we’re the Exclusive Engineering Firm Partner of Ottawa 2017. While we didn’t design that elaborate ice course—we left that to the experts at Red Bull—we did lend our engineering know-how to help make this event happen. Each Crashed Ice location has its own unique engineering challenges, and Ottawa is no exception. Our biggest hurdle? Stemming the flow of the Rideau River.

The track is located above the Rideau Canal, which is a series of locks fed by the Rideau River, nestled between Parliament Hill and the landmark Fairmont Château Laurier, in the heart of the nation’s capital. Due to the incredible size of the ice track, the space normally reserved for water, is needed to accommodate the track’s thrilling drops and hairpin turns—not to mention spectators. We needed to design a way to keep the locks completely drained for the duration of the event. To make that happen, we designed a wall of steel beams that drop into lock’s walls, stopping the flow of water. It sounds simple enough, but before arriving at this solution, we had to evaluate different materials—like timber and aluminum—and calculate the level pressure the beams would be under to ensure they wouldn’t flex too much, compromising the integrity of the wall. Divers even had to be deployed to make sure the beams stack perfectly to create a watertight seal.

The new track layout also required a structural assessment to ensure that the Château Laurier Hotel terrace has adequate capacity to support the track start ramp load. My team ensured that this design would be safe for both the course and the landmark heritage building.

Photo credit: Patrick Haag

While the everyday life of an engineer doesn’t always get to be glamorous, being part of an event like the Red Bull Crashed Ice finale has been a highlight of the year for me and my team. What’s more, it will be even more enjoyable watching the event take place this weekend knowing that I was a part of something hundreds of thousands of people enjoyed.

So whether you’re cheering on the skaters this weekend at Red Bull Crashed Ice, or you’re cheering for Canada’s 150th birthday at one of the many Ottawa 2017 events planned throughout the year, or at any event where a temporary structure is needed, stop, and ask yourself: How did this happen? Chances are, it was with the help of an engineer.

  • Ramez Sidaros

    As a senior structural engineer with over 20 years of experience, Ramez knows his stuff.

    Contact Ramez
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