The heat of the ice

Arena sees 'huge' jump in skating program participation

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— A combination of an upgraded facility, Olympic excitement and an advertising campaign has meant a 43-percent increase in Howelsen Ice Arena's skating programs this year.

In its first of three sessions for the year, skate director Courtney Gill said the ice rink has seen record-breaking numbers in participation for its six learn-to-skate classes. Some of the biggest increases in interest came in the Learn to Skate for adults and the adult beginner and intermediate hockey clinics.

Gill, who has been teaching for the ice arena for more than five years, said the adult skating program typically has about four people sign up per class. But for this year's first session, 11 people were in the afternoon class and 20 were in the Thursday night class.

For the adult hockey program, Gill said the registration cap of 20 filled early and the arena allowed 10 extra participants.

The youth learn-to-skate class had record-breaking registration with more than 80 children in the program.

Those numbers helped bring in more than 232 skaters this year the most the program has ever seen.

Amy Bang, assistant manager for the arena, points to the arena's improvement as one of the biggest reasons for the increase in participation. As part of a $3 million upgrade, the rink has a new refrigeration system, new dasher boards and bleachers.

"It's had a huge impact," Bang said of the effect the new improvements had on the number of program participants. One of the most noticeable changes she said is the quality of ice.

"Out-of-towners have said it's the best ice quality in Colorado," she said.

Gill, who was an instructor when the ice rink was outside, said skaters also increased in numbers a few years ago when a roof was put over the arena.

But Bang pointed out that interest in hockey and ice skating also rises in Olympic years.

"Any ice arena in the country will tell you that Olympic years are big," Bang said. "The third session will probably be very, very high numbers. (The Olympics) will have just gotten over and after watching hockey and skating, everyone wants to be a gold medalist."

Another reason for the increase was a large advertising campaign the program did in the schools and newspaper and with any household that had signed up with the arena in the past.

Although Gill said she is thrilled with this year's response, the increase means the arena had to double the number of its instructors and now has a staff of 10 coaches. Because skating instructors need to be certified with the U.S. Figure Skating Association and have a high ability level, Gill said the arena is always looking for more instructors.

"It is hard to find good instructors. I think that they really have to have a way with people. If they're great skaters, it doesn't always mean they're great coaches," Gill said. "But we've been lucky."

Although Bang is looking for an increase in the third session, the arena might see a slight drop in turnout for the second because of the ski season. The second session begins Jan. 6 and the arena has already started taking registration. With the increase in interest in the programs, Bang said ice time is in peak demand.

"Our ice time is so valuable, we're going from 5:30 (a.m.) to midnight. We keep finding more ice time as interest grows. We keep trying to squeeze programs in there," she said.

Even though the ice arena's newest program, Adult and Youth Power Skate, was met with high participation, Bang said the facility will not add any new programs anytime soon.

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