The biggest obstacle to ice-skating in Kootenai County usually is a lack of ice.
But this year, hockey players and figure skaters finally got a break.
Not only has an early cold spell thickened the ice on area lakes, but a local ice rink finally has opened, ending a near-eternal skating dry spell.
It hasn’t necessarily meant an end to the shoveling, however.
Germain Thibault, a transplanted French Canadian in a red hockey jersey, took a brief rest Monday after helping shovel off the new rink at Go-Kart Family Fun on Seltice Way.
“We had to clear the ice,” he explained, but he wasn’t complaining. The heavy work was done earlier by a plow.
“I grew up like this in Montreal,” he said. “No roof, nothing. But you still go for it and freeze your butt off. It’s great.”
Monday morning’s incessant snowfall forced the dozen-plus hockey players to stop midgame for another shoveling exercise - but customers normally won’t be forced to plow snow off the rink.
The rink’s Zamboni, a machine that conditions the ice for skating, had a minor breakdown.
“This is the true meaning of ‘If you want to dance, you’ve got to pay the fiddler,”’ said Ward Crawford, a hockey fanatic who joined Monday’s pickup game.
“Life without hockey is like concrete without cement,” Thibault philosophized before rejoining the fray of swinging hockey sticks.
Across town at Fernan Lake, two families were undeterred by the shoveling required to make a small rink for their hockey game.
They knew about the new rink opening, but they opted for the traditional family outing on Fernan’s ice.
“It’s free,” said Pam Penley, who played on a two-person team with Brenda Lawlor against their sons. Siska, the dog, did its best to intercept the hockey puck.
“It’s beautiful and you don’t have the congestion,” Penley added, gesturing to the backdrop of trees trimmed with snow climbing steep mountainsides.
Granted, their rink was tiny compared to the new commercial rink, and it took them hours to shovel off the ice the night before. Around the edges of their patch, the snow was melting into slush.
Once that freezes, it will leave a surface too rough for good skating, and maybe too weak for safety.
“With all this snow, it (the ice) won’t last,” Lawlor said. “So we’ll have to go to the rink, or go sledding.”
Ned Horner of the Idaho Fish and Game Department said ice conditions are variable, and anyone venturing out on an area lake should first check its thickness.
“Don’t assume anything,” he said. “In some places it froze up pretty good, and in other places, even during the cold spell, it didn’t get thicker.”
The ice needs to be 3 inches thick, at a minimum, to hold a person’s weight, but 4 or 5 inches is better, he said.
Last year, at the urging of local ice-skaters, the city allowed volunteers to flood Memorial Field for a temporary rink.
“The day after they opened, it rained,” said Crawford. Organizers of the temporary rink also were trying to get a community rink built.
“It seemed like there were 1,000 people with oars and no boat,” Crawford said.
Even if the developers of the proposed Nine Out entertainment complex in Post Falls build two regulation-sized rinks, as is planned, Crawford believes the interest in hockey is strong enough in North Idaho and the Spokane Valley to keep all three rinks in the black.
“There’s a lot of people from here driving to play in Spokane,” he said. The new rink “is long overdue.”
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