SOUTHERN UTAH – Whether it’s the casual fun of skating or the intense rough-and-tumble of a hockey game, many people enjoy ice rinks in the winter months and beyond. But with limited opportunities for ice-based activities in the area, a handful of businesses and nonprofit organizations have joined forces for a common goal: Bringing a permanent ice rink to Southern Utah.
These groups and facilities have faced challenges ranging from environmental to financial over the past five years.
Ice in the desert?
Keeping ice not only frozen, but sufficient for skating, is difficult even with ideal weather. James Mitchell, founder and owner of the now-defunct Dixie Igloo, said that Southern Utah’s climate presents additional challenges.
“Typically, the nighttime temperatures in St. George do not drop below freezing until mid-November and, even then, daytime temperatures are still in the 60s. This is not cold enough to keep a rink frozen, so an artificial refrigeration system is required. Salt water is chilled to about 14 degrees Fahrenheit and circulated through quarter-inch pipes about an inch below the ice surface. This keeps the clear water on top of the pipes frozen solid.
“In theory, it is possible to keep ice frozen, even in the dead of summer, but it would be at a huge expense. We found that when the ambient temperature reached above 65-70 degrees, the ice would get soft and we were not able to open.”
St. George’s first and only ice rink was founded in 2009 by local businessmen Mitchell and Dave Stanley, with Mike England of Salt Lake City as a consultant. Despite knowing little about the science of making and preserving ice, the trio jumped in headfirst, using a business model Mitchell had created as part of a college class 10 years earlier. They bought a massive tent and built a semi-indoor temporary ice rink in downtown St. George, on land rented from the Washington County School District.
Though riddled with problems, including design flaws that delayed its grand opening from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, the Dixie Igloo also accomplished many unique milestones during its first season. The rink hosted Southern Utah’s first hockey league for local players, earned a visit from the Utah Grizzlies and held public skating sessions, where friends, couples and families enjoyed the graceful sport and made lasting memories.
For the 2010-11 season, the rink was moved to the Dixie Sunbowl, on loan from the City of St. George, and its owners were challenged yet again in making the jump to a fully outdoor ice rink. Using the experience and skill they learned the hard way, Mitchell and Stanley completed setup in just three weeks, continuing the popular hockey leagues and skating nights.
Even with significant operating expenses (electricity alone cost over $10,000 monthly), the rink managed to turn a profit and provide a boost to Washington County’s economy. It created a handful of jobs, and drew community members out of their homes and into the city – and other local businesses – on usually quiet winter nights.
But Stanley moved out of state at the end of 2011 and, unable to continue operations on his own, Mitchell reluctantly put the rink up for sale. It was eventually taken to Grand Junction, Colo., where it remained for the next two winters.
“I am so pleased to have been part of the Dixie Igloo,” Mitchell said. “It was such an epic project and I was saddened that (things) didn’t work out to keep it here in St. George.”
In 2013, however, the rink returned to Southern Utah after being purchased by Y.E.T.I. (Youth & Enthusiasts Together for Ice), a nonprofit organization in Cedar City determined to bring ice to the area full-time.
Kerry Fain, the founder of Y.E.T.I., joined forces with Southern Utah Hockey Moms in 2011 to create a place for local families to skate. Their original location was a rugged converted pond at Hunter Land & Livestock just outside Cedar City while they made plans for a large-scale facility.
Over the next year and a half, the group shared their mission through word-of-mouth, dedicated fundraising and finally approached the Cedar City Council in April 2013 to apply for a municipal recreation, arts and parks tax fund. They earned the public’s support, collecting over 2,000 signatures on a petition supporting the plan in two months.
In July, the council voted unanimously to award Y.E.T.I. $93,815 in RAP tax funds as well as vacant property adjacent to the Cedar City Aquatic Center. The group then started setting up the former Dixie Igloo rink with the help of local volunteers.
Eventually, the Cedar Glacier, a seasonal skating facility like no other in the area, was open for business.
“The advances we have made in the last two years are amazing and many have put in so much hard work to make it happen,” Fain said.
The rink is truly remarkable in that it is the product of a huge community effort. Funded entirely by the RAP tax, donations and volunteer work (all employees, including instructors, coaches and referees are unpaid) to keep overhead costs at a minimum, activities are affordable and accessible. Over 80 children signed up for this season’s youth hockey league and were outfitted with all the necessary equipment for free.
The Cedar Glacier currently offers open public skate sessions nightly, youth and adult hockey, figure skating and skating lessons, equipment rental for all ice sports and many other amenities. Located at 2090 Royal Hunte Drive, it is open Monday-Friday from 3-10 p.m. and Saturday from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. General admission costs $4. For more information, call 801-243-4028.
“If not for the passion and hard work of so many, the Cedar Glacier would never have come to be for our kids and community to enjoy,” Fain said.
“We are excited to have the rink back in Southern Utah,” Mitchell said.
For a more traditional outdoor skating experience, visit the rink at the Ebenezer’s Barn & Grill Winter Activity Center in Bryce Canyon City, established in 2011 by the well-known tourist destination Ruby’s Inn.
“We are always looking to enhance our image as a year-round destination,” general manager Lance Syrett said. “We have been a cross-country skiing mecca for some time, but the snow doesn’t always cooperate. We looked at all of our options for winter recreation, and the ice rink was born.”
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., the rink offers skate rentals, hot beverages and a warm-up room. Admission costs $3 adults and $2 for kids age 11 and under. For more information, call 435-834-5341.
Dependent on cooperating weather conditions, the seasonal rink is typically open from December to March. Visitors can receive updates on rink availability by contacting the resort, or check out this live webcam feed.
Kids on Ice
Following the demise of the Dixie Igloo, England partnered with John Crosier to create the nonprofit group Kids on Ice. Aiming to raise $5 million in grants and donations to build a permanent skating facility in Washington County, Kids on Ice has pledged to aid less fortunate youth pursue athletic scholarships and careers in sports including figure skating, speed skating and hockey, also donating use of the rink to programs like the Special Olympics of Utah. With an emphasis on community enrichment activities, the organization’s motto is “kids on ice stay out of hot water.”
A grassroots effort, Kids on Ice is appealing to local residents to sign their petition to the Utah State Legislature, “I Support an Ice Rink in Washington County.” The goal is 30,000 signatures; so far, 322 people have signed via Causes.com. The organization also has an ongoing community fundraising drive via Facebook to collect $50,000.
Philanthropy aside, a professional analysis of expenses and revenue determined that a permanent ice rink will generate $4-6 million annually for the local economy, Crosier said. Such a facility, though, is years away from becoming reality.
Asked if he would ever consider starting another rink, Mitchell said, “It depends on what day you ask me. There are certainly times when I dream of starting again. With the knowledge we have now, I have no doubt that it could be a huge success. In the meantime, I’ll be driving up to Cedar City this winter to enjoy the fruits of (Y.E.T.I.’s) labors.”
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