As Ann Schroeder cautiously made her way around the outer edge of Riverfront Park’s Skate Ribbon, her pink and white skates clicked softly on the ice and her hand reached occasionally for the railing.
“I just love being able to come out here,” she said. “I’m so excited.”
Schroeder said she and her husband, Jim, haven’t ice skated in about five years and hoped to go last year, but missed their chance when Riverfront Park’s newest attraction closed early.
She started by brushing up on old skills, staying inside the small ice pond connected to the main ribbon. That’s where there are no elevation changes and enough open space to practice techniques she learned in ice skating lessons years ago. She said she would wear a helmet when she joined the main throng of skaters on the ribbon pathway.
The ice ribbon’s inaugural season last year lasted only two months due to an ammonia leak. It also closed briefly after a skater died from a fall.
Despite the short time frame last season, about 53,000 people visited the ribbon, Riverfront Park Director Jonathan Moog said. He said this season’s attendance, 13,750 between Nov. 17 and Dec. 17, while not as strong, is still on track to beat average attendance at the park’s old rink, the Ice Palace, where about 30,000 visited between November 2015 and March 2016.
“There is still a lot of popularity,” he said, “but maybe it’s not as strong as the initial demand from last season because it’s not the newest thing in town.”
The Skate Ribbon, which cost about $10 million to build, was the first attraction in Riverfront Park’s redevelopment project to open to the public. It replaced the Ice Palace, a traditional rink that opened in 1977. Voters in 2014 approved the tax to pay for the park upgrades.
Moog said park officials chose the Skate Ribbon, which was designed by Stantec, instead of a more traditional shape because of how it integrated into the rest of the park.
Riley Witt, project manager for the design and construction of the ribbon, said it was designed for recreational skaters by engineers who skate recreationally.
“The best person to design those is the users themselves,” he said.
He said skate ribbons are a trend throughout the country, with another ribbon opening last month in Caldwell, Idaho. He said Spokane’s ribbon shape and green space spread throughout were designed to avoid a large concrete area in Riverfront Park.
He said the project recently was recognized by the Engineering News-Record as the best sports and entertainment project in the Northwest because of the challenges overcome while designing in a park that was once a rail yard and how it was integrated into the surrounding landscape.
After 63-year-old Lorrie Sims suffered a fatal fall on the ice last January, the ice ribbon began offering free helmets to the public. Moog said the park department doesn’t keep track of helmet usage, but said park staff have never run out of inventory.
Witt said he also believes ice ribbons are safer than traditional rinks due to the turns, more confined space and grades that regulate how fast a skater can go. He said he was not aware of any other deaths on Stantec ice ribbons.
Few skaters wore helmets on Christmas Eve when Julia Basta and her husband, Noel Basta, took to the rink. They thought helmets were probably a good idea for children, but didn’t see themselves needing or wearing them.
“I understand the precaution for sure,” she said.
Julie Basta said she enjoyed the scenery and environment skaters experience when they wind their way around the curves and grades on the ice ribbon.
“I kind of like it,” she said. “It’s different than just going around in circles.”