Ice skaters crowd the Howelsen Ice Arena on Friday during an open skating session.

Photo by Brian Ray

Ice skaters crowd the Howelsen Ice Arena on Friday during an open skating session.

Tom Ross: Is there a hockey puck in your stocking?

Thankfully, holiday visitors find alternative to skiing at ice arena

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Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Tom here.

I was thankful when I woke up on the morning after Thanksgiving Day. I was thankful that I woke up, among other things.

Like everyone else, I was thankful for leftover turkey. I was thankful for Waste Management's automated telephone alert system. It reminded me to take the remnants of Thanksgiving dinner to the curb along with the rest of my trash.

Throughout the morning, I was thankful that Bruce Springsteen and Don Henley are still writing thoughtful rock lyrics.

I'm thankful that the Nebraska and Colorado football fans in our office have been treating each other with civility all week (Go Buffs!).

I'm really thankful for Dave Miller, who dragged a snowmobile up Rabbit Ears Pass on Wednesday afternoon and again Friday morning to groom the skate skiing course on Bruce's Trail. I'm extra thankful to the U.S. Forest Service for allowing the Nordic community to maintain the trail system.

Of the 3,000 holiday visitors to Steamboat who did not go skiing Friday, several hundred were thankful for the Howelsen Ice Arena.

If you swung by Howelsen Parkway at any time during the past two days, you probably noticed that the indoor skating rink was mobbed, and tourists are definitely finding their way to one of Steamboat's nicest recreational facilities.

"They all came up for a ski vacation," Courtney Gill said. "We definitely saw a lot of out-of-town tourists. We were running out of rental skates yesterday."

Gill is the program director at the ice rink.

Natosha Edmonds of Boulder came to Steamboat to snowboard this holiday weekend, but found herself at Howelsen Ice Arena with her friend, Samantha Winter of Fort Collins.

"This is my first time ice skating," Edmonds said. "I'm scared."

She needn't have been. Winter grew up in Steamboat and was a member of the figure skating program.

Within 90 seconds, Winter had taken Edmonds by the hands and, skating backwards, pulled her into the flow of skaters circling the rink.

Gill said the ice rink is deliberately friendly to never-evers. They rent out soft skates and offer custom-made skate trainers that resemble the walkers used by senior citizens. They even offer free helmets to guard against head injuries.

"Because we're a tourist town, we know that some skiers will want to take a break from skiing, and some of them will have never skated before," she said.

Howelsen Ice Rink Manager Geary Baxter said the public skating session on Thanksgiving Day attracted 200 skaters, and the early morning family drop-in hockey session had reached capacity by 7:45 a.m.

Baxter said he wished he'd had more pairs of skates to rent. The shop has more than 200 skates, but can only stock limited numbers in many sizes, including skates that fit the smallest children.

"We ran out of size 2 skates in the first 15 minutes this morning," Baxter said.

The Howelsen Ice Arena will offer some discounted public skating on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the first three weeks of December beginning at 4:30 p.m. People can rent skates for $2, and admission is reduced from $6 and $5, to $3. Tuesday sessions last for 60 minutes and Wednesday sessions last 45 minutes. Don't worry, that's ample time to bruise your butt. Call the info line at 879-0341 to confirm details.

The rates are discounted, Gill said, because one-quarter of the ice is reserved for learn-to-skate programs at that time. But with Howelsen's big Olympic-sized ice sheet, there's plenty of room for everyone.

Santa Claus will make an appearance at the rink during public skating 10:15 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., Dec. 22.

If the jolly old elf leaves a hockey puck in my stocking on Christmas Eve, I won't be so thankful as I am today.

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