About 12 years ago, some ice hockey fans in Oak Creek got a hankering to build their own skate rink.
Through volunteer labor and with the town's approval, the hockey players pulled together a rink downtown with plywood boards covered by frozen mud as a base.
Soon after the rink was built, the Oak Creek Hockey Association was formed, and with volunteer help and grants in ensuing years, the rink has been expanded to regulation size with a concrete base. A warming hut has been built, and an ice maintenance machine has been purchased.
Now, more than 54 South Routt children ages 5 to 18 play hockey with one of five Oak Creek Kodiaks teams, said Andrea Schaffner, president of the Oak Creek Hockey Association. All participate in the Rocky Mountain Youth Hockey League, traveling to destinations including Kremmling and Telluride to compete.
The teams practice two days a week and have between 16 and 21 games during the season. Coaches give all players a chance to get on the ice during games and try to give equal skate time to players on the younger teams.
"It's really the only organized winter sport that they can play until they're in the seventh grade," Schaffner said.
With hockey's growing popularity, more upgrades are needed; most importantly, the rink needs a roof, Schaffner said.
The town has applied for a Great Outdoors Colorado grant to pay $250,000 of the $350,000 project and is hoping to make up the rest, including a required 10 percent cash match, with donations and volunteer labor.
With a roof covering the rink and bleachers -- but still open to the air -- the season could be extended by up to six weeks, Schaffner said.
The roof also would allow the teams to schedule games later in the day. Now, all games are scheduled before 11 a.m. to avoid ice melt that results from the sun beating down on the ice in the afternoon.
Another benefit would be that the association wouldn't have to spend volunteer time and $900 each year removing snow that piles up on the rink, Schaffner said.
"It would be extremely helpful because we'll have guaranteed good ice, we won't have to fight the weather conditions if it's snowing out, we'll have a longer season and a longer day, and we'll be able to schedule things like tournaments," Schaffner said.
The grant also would provide modular skatepark equipment, so recreation options would be available year-round.
The oldest ice hockey team for ages 15 to 18 is ranked second in its division, has a record of 11 wins, three losses and two ties, and is the league's first team to start when players were 5 years old and continue through the years. The teens have high hopes for this year's tournament and are planning a trip to Iceland in the spring.
At a recent Wednesday night practice, the team had to cancel its skate time because snow had piled up on the rink, but coach Scott Knudsen and his son Dylan, 17, stayed to discuss the team in the warmth of the hockey hut.
Scott Knudsen got involved with the rink after it was first built by helping shovel off snow. He then asked Dylan if he wanted to play, and although Dylan said he didn't really know what hockey was, he said he'd try it.
Because most of the boys on the team have played together for more than a decade, they have a chemistry that makes them competitive, Scott Knudsen said.
"These kids have played so long together, they don't have to see each other on the ice; they just know they're there," he said.
One disadvantage of an unroofed rink, Dylan Knudsen said, is that sometimes the ice isn't good because it's been melted by the sun or still has snow on it, which makes balance tough.
Scott Knudsen said a roof would "help immensely."
"We could come here, just show up, get dressed and play hockey, without having to worry about removing snow and piling up the corner" where snow melts, Scott Knudsen said.
A roof also would mean games wouldn't have to be played in the snow, which can be almost impossible, he continued.
"It ruins the game," Scott Knudsen said. "It turns into a football game and is all physical.
"It gets funny sometimes because they'll all stop because they can't find the puck."
The team is getting more and more fans out to watch each year, the Knudsens said.
With a roof that keeps people safe from snow and makes later games possible, the number of fans is likely to increase.