If you’re deep in a gray-sky funk, consider heading east to a part of our state where people suffer no vitamin-D deficiency. The Methow Valley is known for the simultaneous occurrence of both snow and sunshine; a place where you don’t have to be a skier to appreciate that winter recreation is not an oxymoron.
Known for world-class nordic ski trails, the valley is home to another quintessential winter experience: that particular, pleasing “shuuuus” sound that skates make on ice. An unobstructed view of Mount Gardiner and birds silhouetted against the sky at twilight combine to create an atmosphere unique to Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink.
One of the only public outdoor ice-skating rinks in the state, the frozen oval is at the epicenter of the valley’s winter-recreation offerings. It sits at a crossroads of the community cross-country-ski trailhead, the town sledding hill and a public bonfire ring, all just a short stroll across a new pedestrian bridge that spans the Methow River to Winthrop’s main street.
“I love ice skating in the open air — that feeling of gliding on the ice with Mother Nature surrounding you 360 degrees — you can be in your own little world,” says Jill Calvert, president of the ice rink’s board. “And you can skate with anybody — your kid, mom or grandma.”
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During open skate sessions, it’s not unusual to see flirting teenagers whiz past hand-holding retirees, while toddlers do their best to stay upright between older siblings. Skating aids such as double-runner skates and walkers help the very young have a successful experience.
The rink’s diverse lineup of classes and events appeals to everyone from wannabe figure skaters to aspiring hockey players — and offers something to skaters of any level. “Sticks and Pucks” sessions invite anyone to give hockey basics a try, and on Friday nights, mood lighting and music celebrate rotating themes, such as disco or Country Western, with those who dress the part skating for half off the usual $4.50-to-$6 admission.
One drawback is that skating is weather-dependent — if it’s not cold enough, the ice melts and the rink closes. A possible matching grant from the state’s Recreation Conservation Office may change this by aiding in the purchase of a refrigeration system. Rink supporters hope to have a guaranteed icy surface and extended season by the end of next year.
For Brian Axtell, a Seattle property manager and gardener, the ice rink is a must-stop for his family of five when they visit Winthrop.
“The ice rink is great for all ages — it’s fabulous family time,” he says. “My oldest loves chasing her little brothers around the rink.”
He said it’s also a good place to drop the kids, ages 10-18, while he and his wife enjoy time to themselves in Winthrop.
Nigel Mott, president of a company that builds small airplanes, is a Winthrop resident who grew up playing hockey in British Columbia. As president of the local amateur hockey association, he’s thankful to be able to share the sport with his 11-year-old son.
He’s also charmed by the rink’s ambience, recalling an evening last winter when a light snow was falling as eagles circled overhead.
“There’s nothing like this rink, located close to town, with the mountains in the background and access to ski trails,” he says. “I don’t know of another like it.”
Kathryn True is a Vashon Island-based freelance writer.