The Winter Olympics provides thrilling competition on snow and ice, bringing together the best winter-sports athletes from around the globe to compete on the world’s biggest stage every four years. Fans enjoy two weeks of athletics, excitement and nail-biting finishes. For athletes, however, their moment in the Olympic spotlight might be the culmination of a decade or more of dedication, training and hard work.
With America’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes willing to sacrifice so much for a chance at gold, the facilities they use to train and prepare need to be just as dedicated to excellence.
Thanks to a project by Bernhard (formerly ETC Group) to modernize the sliding track at Utah Olympic Park (UOP) in Park City, Utah, American Olympic and Paralympic National Team members and developmental athletes now have a world-class training facility that’s equal to their passion in the sports of luge, skeleton or bobsledding. As a bonus, Bernhard’s work to help modernize and upgrade the track has given Utah a much better shot at hosting a second Winter Olympics in 2030 or 2034.
THE PROJECT: UTAH OLYMPIC PARK SLIDING TRACK
Built for the bobsled, skeleton and luge events when Utah hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics, the 1,570-meter slide track was an engineering and architectural marvel when it opened. Designed to blend into the steep terrain to limit impact on local wildlife and views, the slide follows the contours of the mountain and complements the natural scenery near Park City. For years after its original completion, the track was considered “The World’s Fastest Ice” — a reputation cemented through incredible speed records set there, including American luge athlete Tony Benshoof’s World Record blast of 86.6 miles per hour in Oct. 2001.
After the Olympics in 2002, the slide continued to serve as the primary training center for the Olympic and Paralympic National Teams, as well as hosting numerous local and international competitions in sliding sports. The venue is also crucial to helping Utah win its bid to host the state’s second Winter Olympics in 2030 or 2034.
Almost 20 years after the last Olympic medals were awarded in Park City, the slide’s complicated refrigeration system was beginning to show its age. Built around a series of ammonia pumps custom made in Germany, the system struggled to hold ice on crucial turns in the track on warm winter days. To make valve adjustments, the slide’s maintenance team had to dig down through snow and ice to each of hundreds of valves and make changes by hand.
The compounding problems came to a head in early 2019, when the World Cup bobsled and skeleton event scheduled to be held at UOP had to be canceled due to mechanical issues. Over the next few months, the operations team tried to remedy the problem by replacing all the valves that control the flow of heat-extracting ammonia throughout the slide. When that solution failed to fix the problem, attention turned to the custom ammonia pumps, only to find that replacements would take months to arrive from Europe.
With so much on the line for both athletes’ Olympic dreams and Utah’s bid for a second Winter Olympics, the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, which manages the slide, turned to the experts at Bernhard. Over the next two years, Bernhard used our deep knowledge of refrigeration and advanced data analytics to turn the two-decade-old Olympic venue back into what’s arguably the most sophisticated sliding track in the world.
THE BERNHARD SOLUTION
Bernhard engineers and designers assessed the refrigerant system of the track and developed a custom, two-phase plan to modernize and replace its control systems. To make the refrigeration system more consistent, Bernhard replaced controls in the slide’s central plant, making them more reliable along with more data-capable, delivering real-time information that’s crucial to monitoring for and anticipating problems.
Along the 1.25-mile track, Bernhard ran extensive fiber-optic cabling for fast data communications, and replaced every temperature sensor with a modern unit that can be monitored remotely. At each evaporator along the course, Bernhard installed temperature and flow sensors which also feed real-time data to centralized control. Together, these upgrades vastly increased the monitoring and analytic and remote adjustment capabilities of the track, helping maintain uniform “sweet spot” ice even on days when outside air temperatures vary widely. Data visualization and automated analysis help the track’s maintenance team confirm results and optimize mechanical settings based on real-time information, not guesswork and digging for valves. At the same time, rules-detected faults and patterns in the data stream help operators anticipate and correct for problems before they can degrade the competition-perfect condition of the ice.
These upgrades have returned the UOP track to its status as one of the best sliding venues in the world, and are already paying off for athletes. Competitors practicing for the bobsled and luge are already breaking records on the renovated track, promising even more thrilling competition in coming years.
Ready to see how Bernhard’s deep bench of engineers, data analysts and experts can help your facility overcome its most complicated challenges and reach a world-class level? Visit us online at www.bernhard.com, or call 504-833-8291.
About the Author:
Jim Crockett, PE, has 25 years of experience in the HVAC industry in general and 15 years specializing in energy efficiency. At Bernhard, Jim has been the senior engineer on HVAC Energy Efficiency projects around the world and has provided technical guidance in support of the engineering staff and Monitoring-Based Commissioning program. Jim holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the Brigham Young University and an MBA with Finance Concentration from Southern Methodist University. He is a registered Professional Engineer in AZ, CA, FL, ID, KS, MT, NM, TX, UT, and WA and is the recipient of the 2021 AEE Region V Engineer of the Year Award. An accomplished speaker, Jim has presented at AEE World, AEE Arizona, APPA, and EMA webinars. His article on Science-Based Target has been published in Utah Construction & Design Magazine’s 2022 March/April issue.