By Jeffrey V. Smith
PEAK TO PEAK
Colorado’s outdoor ice rinks bring back a traditional, winter activity ideal for families, friends, and couples while providing ample recreational opportunities. While an indoor rink has its advantages, nothing beats gliding on ice with mountain views all around. From natural ponds to refrigerated rinks, the Front Range mountain communities offer several reasons to sharpen your blades and hit the ice.
Creating outdoor ice skating opportunities in the mountains can be more difficult than it seems. Seasonal rinks, like those found in Georgetown, Nederland and Estes Park, require a lot of work to set them up, create ice and maintain it throughout the season. Pond skating, available in Estes Park, Golden Gate Canyon State Park and Evergreen also takes a winter’s worth of work to ensure safety and a fun experience for all.
In Nederland, the town’s ice rink—which doubles as a pair of tennis courts in warm weather—evolved from a group of dedicated parents who loved to ice skate with their kids on Mud Lake, a small pond just outside of Nederland. “Groups of eager skaters would shovel off the lake by hand and set up hockey goals, then play games and awkwardly learn to skate on the rough ice,” NedRink manager Herb Pugmire said. In 2005, this small group of families approached the town to come up with a parcel of land to make a multi-use park for the whole mountain community.
NedRink is a non-profit organization run primarily by a local board and volunteers who do everything from transitioning the facility, to serving as rink attendants, to snow removal, renting and sharpening skates, selling concessions, and providing ongoing maintenance. Volunteers can exchange their hours of work for a pass to skate, play hockey or participate in curling for the entire season, according to Pugmire, who says more than 1,000 hours are contributed by volunteers annually.
The Olympic size rink, which is the largest outdoor one in Colorado, is funded exclusively by the selling of day passes and season passes, along with a few donations.
Every fall, the month of November is spent transitioning from tennis to ice. “It involves a crew of volunteers taking apart the north half of the walls and moving them into an Olympic size ice rink,” Pugmire said. “The boards and fencing are moved and set in place, then sealed with a water proof gasket. The green courts are covered with white liners.”
When the temperature drops to a chilling mountain low of 30 degrees under clear night skies, a crew of three starts slowly making ice one layer at a time. According to Pugmire, a huge fire hose is unraveled late at night and the flooding of the liners begins. “Nature creates its magic, freezing the naturally made ice without the aid of any chilling machines,” he said.
Once the numerous layers of ice have formed, the slick hard surface is maintained by weekly “floods” to keep it at an optimal level. An “ancient” Zamboni was donated to the Rink to help resurface the ice and keep it in top operating condition. “The Zamboni is run before each skating session to provide the best open-aired surface as possible,” Pugmire said. Maintaining the ice is an ongoing challenge because of the sun, wind and snow that is constantly changing the ice conditions.
“The thing mountain folks like most about having a local rink is skating outdoors among the snow covered trees or under the stars at night,” Pugmire said. “Unlike other rinks, Nedrink passes are good for all day, so visitors can leave, enjoy some lunch at a local restaurant and return to enjoy some more ice time or a different session.”
To learn more, visit nedrink.org. If interested in volunteering, call Marie Allen at 720-326-2227. For more information or to sign up a child to play Youth Hockey, visit nedhockey.com. If interested in learning how to curl, contact Doug Jones at 720-308-8522.
In Estes Park, the town rents its downtown, outdoor rink from Fort Collins. As a loss leader, it’s intended to attract people to downtown businesses, stimulate the economy, and provide a fun new activity for local kids and families. Last season it saw almost 4,000 skaters in just a few months. The rink is located in the heart of the village and is open late November through February, weather permitting.
The process for having a rink is not an easy one. This year, three Public Works staff spent about a month “day in and day out” setting up the rink that opened in time for Thanksgiving. “We pretty much build it from scratch each year,” Estes Park Arborist Brian Berg said. “We build a concrete barrier to hold the sand, water and ice and we build the rails from scratch all the way around.” They also run coils through the sand, crane in a chiller, build a house for the chiller and a water heater and flood the rink with more than 4,000 gallons of water.
The staff works with the ice engineer for the Colorado Eagle’s semi-pro hockey team. “He taught us how to properly make ice, which has been a huge help the last few years,” Berg said. “We have a hot water heater in our house that we hook up to because hot water makes the clearest, strongest ice.” Berg and his crew spent four or five days adding thin coats of hot water to the rink 24 hours a day to build at least two to three inches of good ice.
“Being a Midwest boy, I love skating and think it’s a great opportunity for people to get out. It’s small,but it’s better than pond hockey, I can tell you that!”
Once set up, the rink is operated by the town’s Recreation Department which rents skates and maintains the ice with a Zamboni. The rink is open Friday evenings through Sunday afternoons. Skate rental is available, but skaters are welcome to bring their own skates. Visit http://www.evrpd.com or http://www.estes.org to learn more.
YMCA of Rockies in Estes Park offers outdoor ice skating on Dorsey Lake surrounded by Rocky Mountain National Park’s dramatic snow-covered peaks while Trout Haven Ranch, also in Estes Park, offers winter ice skating on its rink with views of the Continental Divide.
There is an outdoor ice rink in Werlin Park in Georgetown. Just bring warm clothes because ice skates are provided.
Evergreen operates the world’s largest Zamboni-groomed outdoor ice rink, a 8.5-acre stretch of ice with 11 hockey rinks and a huge public skating area amid ponderosa pine-covered mountains
Golden Gate Canyon State Park in mid-Gilpin County offers skating on the tranquil visitor center’s show ponds.
Additional outdoor skating can be found in numerous locations in Grand County including Winter Park Resort, Snow Mountain Ranch, Devil’s Thumb Ranch and Grand Lake.
Originally published in the December 2014 issue of the MMAC Monthly