Refrigerated ice adds reliability to Winthrop’s outdoor rink, as Bend opens deluxe open-air pavilion.
Skating outdoors is like the distilled essence of winter. As you circle the rink with a rush akin to flying, cold air pleasingly reddens the cheeks and fills the lungs. The fir-spiked scent of surrounding mountains and forests awakens and refreshes the senses.
For Northwest fans of outdoor skating, the year’s big news is the newly refrigerated, yet completely open to the sky, Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink. It’s the Methow Valley’s latest cold-season hot spot.
Those who cursed late freezes and early thaws for the mushy ice that frequently forced closure of the previously weather-dependent rink will soon be able to don skates with confidence from Thanksgiving through mid-March each year. (This year, the rink is set to open the first week of December.)
“I’m most excited because we can guarantee a product and unique experience for people,” says Jill Calvert, president of the rink’s board. “Where before they would get their hopes up and the rink might be closed — now we can guarantee they will be able to skate outdoors in this beautiful facility in a beautiful place in the nation.”
A seasonal magnet for locals and visitors alike, the newly expanded facility was designed to support weekend regional adult and youth hockey tournaments, while also open for public skating. Drop-in hockey, youth hockey, learn-to-skate sessions, and Friday theme nights such as “‘80s dance” and “football madness” will be continued draws to the rink, located at the town’s community trailhead with open-sky views of Mount Gardiner and frequent eagle flyovers.
Besides refrigeration, improvements include more changing areas, more public viewing (where spectators can enjoy ping pong and a warm drink), and new restrooms and showers. Public skating is offered daily, except on tournament weekends (check website for schedule).
And almost all of it was built with community sweat equity, matching a $500,000 state recreation grant.
“It spins my crank and puts a huge smile on my face when I see people of all ages, sizes and abilities having fun at our homegrown outdoor rink,” says Calvert. “For just $10 you can go out there for 2½ hours and skate to your heart’s content.”
If you go: 208 White Ave., Winthrop, Okanogan County; 509-996-4199 or winthropicerink.com.
Nearby: Check with locals first, but when Lake Patterson, near Sun Mountain Lodge, freezes to a safe thickness, you can bring your own skates for natural-ice skating.
Here’s a sampling of a few other notable outdoor, or at least open-to-the-air, rinks around the region:
Expected to open by December is The Pavilion, Central Oregon’s first regulation National Hockey League rink, a new facility of Bend Park and Recreation District.
With daily public skate sessions and lessons, hockey, curling and more, the rink promises to be a new focal point for tourists and locals this winter.
Though purists might call this “semi-outdoor” due to its roof and wind/sun-protective translucent side panels, the rink is open-air, and its dependable, quality ice will likely quiet any quibbling.
An outdoor plaza offers a snow-play area, fire pits, covered picnic area and spectator viewing, while hot drinks and snacks are served inside. An elevated indoor warming room has seating with a view of the ice, and a fireplace for spectators and après skate warming. In warmer months, The Pavilion will host public sports such as basketball.
If you go: 1001 S.W. Bradbury Way, Bend, Ore.; 541-389-7588 or bendparksandrec.org/the-pavilion.
Nearby: There are seasonal outdoor rinks at the Seventh Mountain Resort, Sun River Resort and in Redmond, Ore.
Klamath Falls, Ore.
Many outdoor rinks have their roots in old-fashioned pond skating, or in flooding areas for seasonal use. This is true of the Bill Collier Community Ice Arena, in the foothills of the Cascades seven miles outside Klamath Falls in southern Oregon. Its namesake, an avid hockey player, was known for using a fire hose to maintain a rink that had been a winter sports gathering spot since the early 1900s.
The community-supported refrigerated rink opened in 2002. It’s known for excellent ice — so good that it hosts professional skaters at an annual ice show (set for Jan. 30, 2016). The National Hockey League-regulation sheet is roofed, with open-air, 360-degree views of the Cascades, Mount Shasta and surrounding forests. Daily public skating sessions.
If you go: 5075 Fox Sparrow Drive, Klamath Falls, Ore., 541-850-5758 or klamathicesports.org,
Nearby: There is a small seasonal outdoor rink in Ashland, Ore., 1½ hours west.
You don’t come to the 8,000-square-foot, mountaintop Grouse Mountain Ice Skating Pond, overlooking Vancouver, to practice your triple Lutzes. But it has much to recommend it, including a gondola ride, unforgettable scenery and holiday festivities. At 3,700 feet, skaters can take in the Coast Range and city lights. Hockey lovers may rent the entire rink for a mountaintop “shinny” — Canadian slang for a pickup game — then warm up inside the Peak Chalet with hot cocoa and poutine, which are fries French Canadian style, drowning in cheese curds and gravy. Open public skating is from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, as weather allows.
If you go: 6400 Nancy Greene Way, North Vancouver, B.C.; 604-980-9311 or grousemountain.com/ice-skating.
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Elsewhere in B.C.: Downtown Vancouver’s Robson Square Ice Rink offers seasonal open-air skating.
A number of British Columbia ski resorts have outdoor rinks. Enjoy free, public outdoor skating in the heart of Whistler Village at Whistler Olympic Plaza, with daytime snowy mountain views and nighttime holiday lights. Open daily until 9 p.m.; whistler.com/activities/ice-skating.
Among other ski areas with open-air ice: Big White, Sun Peaks and Apex Mountain (the latter features a forested, 1-kilometer skating loop lit until 11 p.m.)
A trio of urban rinks around the Sound
Ice-skating has become a holiday tradition for many in Seattle, Bellevue and Tacoma, thanks to these public, family-friendly seasonal rinks:
Bellevue Magic Season
For nearly 20 years, Eastside families have awaited the Thanksgiving-weekend launch of Bellevue Magic Season and the opening of Bellevue Downtown Park’s ice arena. The partially open-air rink has a tent for rain protection. Families fill the rink Thursdays for Stroller Skate — when strollers are allowed on the ice. $9-$12 includes skate rental. 10201 N.E. Fourth St., Bellevue; bit.ly/1RWflL7.
Polar Plaza, Tacoma
Downtown Tacoma’s Polar Plaza is across from Tacoma Art Museum. Skaters enjoy live music every Saturday night, and special themed nights at the tent-covered rink. Spectators can grab a bite from an on-site food truck and watch the action from the bleachers. $4-$8; plus $2 skate rental. 17th and Pacific, Tacoma; polarplaza.com.
Winterfest, Seattle Center
Though not outdoors, the Seattle Center’s holiday-season Fisher Pavilion rink is a winter must for many Seattleites. Metal walkers help young ones gain “skate legs” and ease their introduction to fun on the ice. $2-$7 includes skates. 305 Harrison St., Seattle; seattlecenter.com/winterfest.