Public ice skating programs improving

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— Don't be surprised if there are a few more theme nights during public skating when the Howelsen Ice Arena reopens next fall.

It's just one of the ways ice rink director Stacy Foster is hoping to pump new life into her public skating programs. She began the theme nights which offer specific genre of music (such as techno, '60s, '70s, '80s) over the loud speakers last year and plans on continuing the tradition next winter. She has been busy this year collecting a wide range of compact discs to increase the arena's musical choices and she is confident it will pay off with increased attendance on the ice during public skating sessions.

"We used the theme nights last year and they were pretty well received," Foster said. "It was just one of the ways we tried to increase interest in public skating."

The ice skating rink will also continue the practice of having staff members dress in costumes during the Sunday open skating sessions. An idea that started off kind of slow last year, but had started to gain momentum by the end of the season.

"Sometimes it takes a little while for some of these things to catch on," Foster said. "The character skates started to pick up at the end and I think they will keep building. Some of these things just take a little more time."

But Foster isn't content to sit on last year's success. She will also add a public skating session on a weekday night next year in an effort to bolster her public skating numbers.

Developing a stronger interest in public skating is just one of the goals Foster has set as she looks ahead to next year.

"A key goal for us is building the learn-to-skate program and developing new skaters to fill our programs in the future," Foster said.

To accomplish this Foster will also add at least one more learn-to-skate session on a different day next fall in an effort to reach more kids who may not be able to make the classes at the currently scheduled times.

Some learn-to-skate programs may share ice time with public skating to accomplish this goal.

Currently adult hockey programs consume the largest amount of ice time at the arena a total of 33 percent last year. Youth hockey was the next largest user group, taking up about 31.4 percent of the total ice time available.

Public skating absorbs another 22 percent of the time and the local figure skating club used about 10 percent of the allotted time last winter.

Meanwhile, the rinks programs are only 1 percent of the total time it's a number that Foster would like to see grow in the future.

"The really surprising number is the amount of ice time the adult programs are using," Foster said. "It's nice to see those programs doing so well."

The past several years youth hockey has recorded the largest amount of ice time. But last year the adult recreational programs including coed, senior, women and men's leagues edged ahead. Both numbers are good, but Foster admits that she would like to give more time to educational programs designed to reach the sports future stars.

"Sure I would like to see our programs and public skating using a little more ice time but that's something we are still working on," Foster said.

While the numbers might indicate that the rink's self-run programs are a bit flat, Foster was quick to point out that this isn't really the case.

Many of the rink's long-running programs, such as the senior hockey league, girls hockey and initiation to hockey, were privatized last year.

"That's how we like to do things," Foster said. "We like to get the programs started, then when they are strong enough hand them off to someone else who can run them."

The skating rink's programs are also limited by the ice time, which is available at the rink. Hourly ice rental, which includes many of the biggest programs at the ice skating rink, currently consumes the largest chunk of ice time. But the time that is purchased by adult, youth, girls and initiation to hockey also brought in the largest chunk of cash last season $163,483.

That's compared to public skating, which earned the rink $33,535, and drop-in hockey which collected another $22,013.

To make room on the ice for these big money makers, Foster must find ice time in other areas including some of the time that would be used for the rink's own programs.

Things are expected to change a bit at the rink after Phase III improvements kick in next fall.

The improvements will come in two steps. The first will include a new refrigeration system, mechanical room and Zamboni room. There will also be new dasher boards, formal seating and locker rooms added underneath.

The new refrigeration system will allow the rink to maintain a year-round schedule. Foster said the rink will still close for about a month in the spring.

The planned expansion will start in mid-July and should be completed sometime next fall. Foster said some shoulder-season programs will be affected, but she is hoping to be as close as possible to the normal opening date for the rink.

"Hopefully we will have ice next summer," Foster said.

The second step is expected to start the following spring and will included a two-story extension on the front of the building for admissions, offices, lobby concessions and a multipurpose viewing room.

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