It may cause cars to crash and careen off roads, but Spokane residents want more ice - to skate on, that is.
Local rinks have quadrupled ticket sales from last year, bringing record profits. Throngs of skaters crowd Spokane’s two rinks every weekend, prompting rink managers to wonder when someone will build another arena.
“We don’t have enough ice to satisfy everybody,” joked Don Largent, group sales department manager at the Ice Palace and Riverfront Park, N507 Howard. “We’re having the best year ever from an income point of view and a numbers point of view.”
The Ice Palace even reached maximum capacity a few times between Christmas and New Year’s, forcing eager skaters to wait until others exited the rink to comply with safety regulations.
Aside from a lack of competition, rinks have benefited from unseasonably warm weather.
“I love this weather,” Glendia Plott said as she unzipped her jacket. Plott supervises Special Olympic skaters who use the rink Monday and Wednesday afternoons.
“We haven’t had the blowing wind that we had in the past years, so it’s been real comfortable.”
Cool but not frigid weather means that area ponds and lakes aren’t frozen solid. Also, mild temperatures and limited snowfall have convinced some would-be skiers and snowboarders to forego the slopes in favor of ice rinks.
“If you talk to the ski resort areas, their problem is that there’s no snow in downtown Spokane so no one thinks about skiing. A lot of the people who would normally ski come down here instead,” Largent said.
Unique marketing promotions have also helped the Ice Palace.
Anyone who had purchased a summer amusement pass to Riverfront Park in 1994 could get a winter extension for $10. More than 2,400 people cashed in on the deal, and about 1,000 people bought passes at the regular price. Last year, the Ice Palace sold fewer than 900 winter passes.
“Also, we’ve had some good Imax movies here, so that makes us and everything else do well. It’s not any one thing in particular,” Largent said.
Tim Everson, manager of Eagles Ice-A-Rena, said he, too, has noticed an influx of skaters at lessons and group activities. Participation in adult recreational hockey, youth hockey and figure skating have increased from last year at Ice-ARena, N6321 Addison.
“Maybe it has to do with the popularity of Rollerblading in the summer,” Everson hypothesized. “People get used to doing that in the summer, and ice hockey is a pretty natural conversion.”
He also noted that the popularity of professional hockey teams on the West Coast may have Spokane kids dreaming of becoming the next Wayne Gretzky.
Or maybe jammed rinks are the result of simple supply and demand, Largent said. Despite periodic rumors that someone might open another ice rink, the Ice Palace and Eagles Ice-A-Rena are the only rinks within a 50 mile radius of Spokane. (Only Ice-A-Rena is open for public skating year-round.)
“Like everything else in Spokane, there’s room for growth. If someone built another rink, the competition wouldn’t dent the numbers of skaters here,” he said. “That’s how badly we could use another.”
Despite increasing popularity of ice skating, Largent didn’t want the crowds to intimidate bashful skaters from taking a spin at the Ice Palace.
“As a general rule … we haven’t been overly packed,” Largent said. “We haven’t reached gridlock yet.”