Additional sheet of ice at Howelsen getting a second chance

Skaters enjoys a rare opportunity to find open ice during a youth hockey practice at Howelsen Hill. Most of the time, the sheet of ice is packed with more than one age division, and the Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey Association has been forced to find innovative ways to get the most use out of the ice time it has.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Adding a covered, multi-purpose outdoor ice rink to the Howelsen Ice Arena has been a project with plenty of ups and downs, going from an near certainty in early 2018 to an afterthought. However, after a discussion during the Steamboat Springs City Council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 6, the new addition is back on the table. 

Dressed in their hockey jerseys, several local kids from the Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey Association sat before City Council in support of another sheet of ice, as limited ice time has made for a number of late-night hockey games.

“They’re on the ice at 10 o’clock at night,” said Kerry Shea, board president for the Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey association. “With our adult leagues, they’re out there having fun until midnight.”

Shea said the additional ice space could double the potential size of youth hockey tournaments and would make Steamboat eligible for hosting state tournaments.

City Council members said they supported adding a covered outdoor ice facility and expressed interest in writing a memorandum of understanding that would formally express a shared desire to build a second sheet of ice.

Though no money was officially committed on Tuesday, City Council unanimously agreed to begin discussions with the Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey Association about raising funds for the second sheet of ice.

The Parks and Recreation Department requested the second sheet of ice be treated with priority because it already went the through the approval process once already, but council members said they would need some time to weigh the price of the new facility with other city projects before making a financial commitment. 

Get the top stories in your inbox every morning. Sign up here:

Councilmembers expressed a desire to know how much the new project would cost, saying there’s a good chance the cost for materials and labor would be even higher now than it was in 2018, but Shea said the new design is simpler than the one that was canceled before.

Angela Cosby, the city’s parks and recreation director, said staff expects a good chunk of the costs will be offset by the additional revenue the second sheet of ice will bring in. Cosby also said that because the covered ice rink is so close to the existing ice arena at Howelsen, there would be considerable overlap of resources between the two facilities, such as being able to use the same zamboni.

The covered facility would be about 35,000 square feet with about a 140 foot by 250 foot building footprint. The sheet of ice would measure 85 feet by 200 feet, regulation size for the NHL, while the rink inside the Howelsen Ice Arena is a bit larger and Olympic-regulation size. 

The covered addition to the Howelsen Ice Arena would expand programming for several activities and sports, particularly curling and hockey tournaments.
City of Steamboat Springs/Courtesy Image

Since 2018, the city has invested in infrastructure necessary for adding another sheet of ice, such as relocating the sewer main to the new location, moving electrical lines, installing a sidewalk from the ice rink to the intersection at Fifth Street and Howelsen Parkway, paving the rodeo grounds parking lot, and expanding the Howelsen Ice Arena facilities on its second floor.  

The new facility would include four additional locker rooms, a dryland workout area, a storage area and bleachers. Overhead covering and refrigeration for the ice would maximize its usability throughout the year, and would include summer programming such as live music. 

If everything goes off without a hitch, construction could start as early as 2023 with an opening date in 2024.

Back in 2018, the first phase of construction for the second sheet of ice was approved and everything seemed to be falling into place. A donor provided $1 million toward the project, and the city allocated $700,000 from the accommodations tax toward the ice sheet’s construction. The city was so committed that it put a nonrefundable down payment on steel for the project of around $67,000.

But the cost estimates for the second sheet of ice escalated fast, going from about $2.5 million to almost $4.5 million right before City Council met to discuss the project.

Not wanting to build half of the project and wait for funding to complete the rest, City Council let the idea melt away.

“Bad timing,” was attributed to the project being shelved, City Manager Gary Suiter said in 2018. And that bad luck would continue to hold the project back. 

The $1 million donation agreement between the city and Michael and Sara Craig-Scheckman expired shortly after.

Then the pandemic in 2020 shut the rink at Howelsen down from March until August, and the ice was removed to make space for an emergency overflow for the hospital. The city also aggressively cut budgets during the uncertainty of the pandemic.

But when lockdown restrictions ended, and the pandemic-era anxieties faded, demand for time at the Howelsen Ice Arena soared.

Curling was also added to the ice arena’s programming, which has been a hit among locals, but has made ice time at Howelsen scarcer than ever. 

“When the rink opened back up, they experienced the same effect that recreation across the board did,” said Cosby. “Huge uptick.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.