The ice is nice

I had just arrived at home for lunch Tuesday when the front door flew open and my 3-year-old son raced into the room completely out of breath.

His eyes were as wide as the snowflakes that were plummeting to the ground outside our window and his feet were moving faster than Mike Anderson trying to escape a Seattle defensive lineman.

“It’s snowing! It’s snowing!” he yelled as he jumped up and down in the middle of the room.

While I didn’t share his excitement about the scenery outside our window which reminded me of January I had to admit he was right. The snowflakes were falling and it was apparent that the times they were a’changing.

Winter, or at least the things I like the least about winter, had arrived.

My son’s first request wasn’t to go out and run around in the snow, toss snowballs at passing cars or even build a snowman (He did request bringing Frosty to life at which I had to explain to him that the snow actually has to stick to the ground before you can build a snowman).

No, his first request was to head over to Howelsen Hill and go ice skating. Something he has done since he was 2 years old and has always associated with winter.

But this too will soon change.

When the rink finally opens this November my son and other skating enthusiasts in town will be greeted by a new multi-million dollar facility that will turn ice skating into a year-round (or almost year-round) activity in Steamboat Springs. It will be closed a few weeks at the end of each season to give the staff a break.

It will be the latest evolution for a facility that seems like it was started in the dark ages.

When I first arrived in Steamboat, the rink faced a different direction, was outside and it’s operating hours were completely random. If you wanted to go ice skating it couldn’t be snowing, it couldn’t be warm and you couldn’t really predict if you were actually going to get on the ice or not.

That was a little more than 10 years ago, and to look back I can’t believe how far the local rink has come.

Private groups and the city have teamed up to slowly bring the arena up to a higher standard. They spent tons of money and finally the facility is coming up to first-class standards.

Gone are the romantic days of skating outside, under the lights with a light snow falling in the background. A roof and a few bucks have made those days a thing of the past.

The result of the first set of improvements, such as the roof, has resulted in a huge growth in youth hockey and many other skating programs here in Steamboat.

This summer the rink began the final stage of evolution or at least we hope. A new refrigeration system, new locker rooms and new boards will be apparent to most folks who arrive to skate. Next summer there will be more construction as the lobby and offices are brought up to specs.

It’s still hard to gauge what the results of the skating rink’s latest changes will be.

But to be deemed a success, the rink will have to draw numbers not only in the winter, but also in June, July and August.

There is no doubt in my mind that the new rink has the capability to draw skaters on a year-round basis. The only troubling question will be if locals can break their long-standing belief that skating, like skiing, is something we do when the snow falls.

Will this new rink be worth the millions of dollars the city puts into it?

At first glance, I would say sure, but the real sign of success will come in the numbers and growth of skating in Steamboat Springs over the next few years.

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