John Russell's sports column appears Mondays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs As I stood inside the Howelsen Ice Arena on Friday night watching the Steamboat Springs High School hockey team play Summit County, it dawned on me just how far things have come in our town.
It's easy to think this is how things always have been.
I was dry, warm and comfortable while watching a game that started on time, with no delays and with little or no chance of being canceled because of weather.
But not too long ago, things were different — very different.
Hockey games were played outside, and the weather conditions determined the season more than a schedule.
The games, and in many cases the entire seasons, were at the mercy of the weather.
Back then, a single afternoon of warm weather or a little too much snow on the ice could end a game before it started. Out-of-town teams didn’t want to schedule Steamboat games because nobody could predict the weather with certainty. Not even the weatherman.
Most winters, the season started late and ended early. Even when the weather cooperated, the rink was prone to breakdowns because most of the equipment was designed to be used at an indoor rink.
That changed in the early 1990s, when community groups pushed to improve the existing rink, and by December 1996, a new and improved ice skating rink, complete with a roof, became part of the Steamboat landscape. It took several years and several steps to get to that finished product, but the faithful never seemed to lose hope.
The new rink ignited a growth in hockey and skating in Steamboat and helped strengthen the struggling youth hockey and figure skating programs. There also was a spike in adult players who had spent years hoping for ice time.
When I arrived in Steamboat, the idea of a strong youth hockey association was out of reach and the idea of a high school team was a pipe dream.
But all that changed thanks to community members and a city government that stepped up and invested in the future.
These days, the Howelsen Ice Arena draws hundreds of children and adults each week. Hockey teams come from other towns to play, and the ice has been the stage for more than a few figure skaters.
It’s easy to forget and hard to imagine that it hasn’t always been that way.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com