Winter Sports

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Unpredictable Weather? Not a Problem

1 Feb, 2018

By: Michael Popke
Many Winter Sports Destinations Cope with Warmer Temps by Promoting Indoor Ice

Sometimes, the weather cooperates and sometimes, it doesn’t. While this winter did see some major snowstorms hitting, a decided lack of wintry precipitation has also wreaked havoc on outdoor sports events in the past.

Case in point: The 2017 American Birkebeiner, the world’s largest cross-country ski race in northern Wisconsin, was canceled because of record high temperatures and rain — and no snow. The lack of snow at Colorado ski resorts in December 2017 even prompted the owners of the Steamboat Ski Touring Center to launch a tongue-in-cheek contest inviting people to film their own invocations to the “snow gods.”
“The weather has certainly impacted our outdoor winter events,” says Judi Hess, director of Greater Binghamton Convention and Visitor’s Bureau in upstate New York, adding that the Almost-Annual Crappie Derby ice fishing tournament was canceled in 2017 because of safety concerns about thin ice caused by unseasonably warm temperatures.

No wonder officials in Chester County, Pennsylvania, are looking into creating wintertime competitions with built-in contingencies in case the weather is too warm or there’s no snow on the ground. “A snowshoe race could be turned into a cold mud run, for example,” says Travis Geiser, sports and events sales manager for the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau. “People will be able to say they did something most others haven’t.”

Regardless of whether you believe in climate change, there’s no denying that average monthly temperatures across the United States have been higher than usual for the past three years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

That said, a wicked blast of sub-zero temperatures rattled much of the country in late 2017 and early 2018. Winter Storm Grayson even delivered the first measurable snowfall since 1989 in Tallahassee, Florida.

But it’s exactly that kind of unpredictability (snow in Florida?) that has organizers of many wintertime events focusing on ice and looking near and far for reliable indoor facilities.

“Our community has asked us to reach out to groups that can use our ice facilities,” says Brooke Harmening, sports and convention sales manager for the Evansville (Indiana) Convention & Visitors Bureau, pointing to both the Swonder Ice Arena’s two sheets and the Ford Center, a multi-purpose arena that is home to the Southern Professional Hockey League’s Evansville Thunderbolts.

That new commitment to ice is how the Ford Center wound up hosting a National Theater on Ice competition in June, which attracted an estimated 1,800 skaters on 75 teams. Harmening reports an economic impact of $1.8 million from the five-day event.

“That event really emphasizes our new focus on ice,” she adds.

Twice as Nice with Indoor Ice
It’s tough to find destination cities with only a single ice rink these days. Facility operators, local organizations and tourism officials recognize the benefits of providing multiple ice sheets for multiple types of events. Depending on the venue and its dimensions, some rinks also host speed skating and curling.

Colorado Springs is a perfect example of how communities use ice to attract athletes. Officially nicknamed “Olympic City USA” in 2017 because it not only is home to the United States Olympic Committee headquarters but also to more than 20 national governing bodies, including U.S. Figure Skating and USA Hockey, Colorado Springs boasts several rinks of varying sizes.

The World Arena Ice Hall offers two sheets of ice and is an official U.S. Olympic training site that also serves as home for the Broadmoor Skating Club and Broadmoor Curling Club, the Colorado Gold Speedskating Club and numerous youth, high school and adult hockey leagues.

Last April, the facility hosted the International Skating Union’s 2017 World Synchronized Skating Championships, and it is one of the few venues in the United States capable of putting on world-class international competitions, according to Cheryl McCullough, director of sports and special events for the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau. The Broadmoor Curling Club, meanwhile, also puts on an annual bonspiel at the Broadmoor World Arena, adjacent to the World Arena Ice Hall.  

Other ice facilities in “Olympic City USA” include Colorado College’s Honnen Ice Arena, the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Cadet Ice Arena and the community-based Sertich Ice Center, all of which team up to host games for the Colorado Springs Amateur Hockey Association’s Presidents’ Day Hockey Tournament every February. This year’s event was expected to attract more than 1,100 kids on about 100 teams, according to McCullough.

“It’s a huge misperception that every place in Colorado is a ski destination,” she says, revealing that it was 64 degrees on the mid-December day she spoke with Sports Destination Management. “But because of everything else Colorado Springs has to offer, we’ve become renowned in the sports world.”

Chester County, Pennsylvania, is another destination with multiple ice rinks, most notably the Ice Line Quad Rinks. With four NHL-size ice surfaces with seating capacities between 500 and 700 spectators, the center is located in West Chester (about 35 miles outside of Philadelphia). Ice Line also expanded in 2017, adding the Goal Line Pub overlooking one of the rinks and designating meeting rooms in the new space below the dining area.

“I can’t wait to show it off to more teams looking to host events here,” Geiser says. “It’s like something you’d see in a Minor League Baseball stadium. It has that look and feel.”

Ice Line has hosted a variety of events, including USA Curling’s 2016 Arena National Championships, multiple American Collegiate Hockey Association national championships, USA Hockey Tier II national championships, MYHockey youth tournaments and high-level high school games.

Geiser also expects that the evolution of new figure skating and synchronized skating clubs in the area also will spur new events at Ice Line.
On the other side of Chester County, Power Play Rink in Exton, Pennsylvania, recently formed a relationship with the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau, and Geiser envisions teaming with the East Penn Speedskating Club to bring events in that sport to the facility. “I’m also excited to see what we can do with that rink,” he says.

Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor may have hosted the 2014 NHL Winter Classic, but the city also has multiple permanent indoor facilities. The Ann Arbor Ice Cub offers three sheets and is home of the Ann Arbor Figure Skating Club, which hosts two annual skating competitions, including the Dr. Richard Porter Synchronized Classic, featuring 2,500 youth and adult skaters from all over the world. Held every December, the weekend competition is one of the city’s most important events, and it celebrated 22 years in 2017. Additionally, the Springtime Invitational is an annual solo ice dancing competition, and the facility also will host the 2019 Eastern Great Lakes Regional Figure Skating Championships in October.

Meanwhile, the Arctic Coliseum in nearby Chelsea boasts two surfaces that collectively can accommodate up to 1,250 spectators, according to Meaghan Hughes, sales and event manager for the Ann Arbor Convention and Visitors Bureau. The Coliseum welcomed the Nations Cup AAA in January and the eighth annual Michigan Public High School Hockey Showcase in February. Additionally, the University of Michigan’s Yost Ice Arena brought U.S. Figure Skating’s 2017 Nations’ Cup Interclub Theatre on Ice to the city last year.

Yet another city with multiple ice rinks is Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where the 2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Hockey West Regional will be held in March at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center. Home of the United States Hockey League’s Sioux Falls Stampede, the arena also hosted the 2017 USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.

Meanwhile, the Scheels IcePlex (located in the Sanford Sports Complex) includes three rinks and welcomes a variety of amateur and youth hockey events, including the Northland Hockey Group’s AAA Opener, which will take place this April.
“Since the opening of the Scheels IcePlex in 2014, we’ve increased the number of hockey tournaments, which has really put Sioux Falls on the map,” says Matt Barthel, communications director for the Sioux Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Pond Hockey & Synchronized Skating
In Binghamton, the ice for the annual Binghamton Pond Festival remains outside. But the event in January 2018, which spanned three weekends at Chenango Valley State Park in Chenango Forks, New York, included a new refrigerated outdoor surface, just in case temperatures turned too warm.

Each weekend featured a different tournament catering to specific participants. The first involved the American Special Hockey Association and included players with physical and developmental disabilities, followed by the Youth Outdoor Hockey Weekend and then the Adult Outdoor Hockey Weekend. Organizers created a festival atmosphere with live music and wintertime games, and Hess said the event collectively generated an economic impact of $700,000.

Chicago’s southwest suburbs also boast multiple ice rinks, including Southwest Ice Arena in Crestwood, Homewood-Flossmoor Ice Arena in Flossmoor and Arctic Ice Arena in Orland Park, where the United States Hockey League’s Development Series Phase I, II and III Combine received a 2017 Sports Destination Management Champion of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism award.

Held every spring and summer, the combine attracted more than 3,100 participants from the all over the United States and, in 2017, generated an economic impact of more than $1 million, according to Kim Kislowski, marketing director for the Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Grant money helped fund the combine events — a bonus available to organizations holding an event in any of the 62 municipalities that fall under the Chicago Southwest CVB’s jurisdiction. “The thing that sets us apart from other destinations is that we try to work with groups to provide media coverage and PR assistance,” Kislowski says. “You don’t just come here and then find out you’re on your own.”
Other ice events in the region include the annual Synchro Illinois synchronized skating competition at the Oak Lawn Ice Arena in January and the Chi-Town Shuffle Hockey Tournament in April, featuring elite players from North America and around the world.

Winter Fun in the Sun
While you expect to encounter cold weather in the previous seven destinations (depending on the time of year), chilly temperatures are less likely in Tampa Bay, Florida. Snow is practically out of the question.

But thanks to a strong partnership with the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, the Tampa Bay Sports Commission has made recruiting and hosting ice events a major priority. To that end, the Amalie Arena has welcomed the NCAA Division I Men’s Frozen Four in 2012 and 2016, and the 2018 NHL All-Star Game skates into the city in late January. Additionally, the Lightning along with the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association recently committed to building 10 outdoor street hockey rinks over the next three years to boost hockey interest and participation at the local level.

“It took a concerted effort to demonstrate Tampa Bay’s knowledge of the sport and our hosting capabilities,” says Jason Aughey, the commission’s senior director. “Fast-forward to today, and you have a professional franchise in the Lightning that traditionally sells out every home game, a variety of top-notch hockey rinks and a destination that offers the ultimate in convenience and accessibility.”

Tampa Bay also is home to the Florida Hospital Center Ice facility, a four-rink complex that is the largest in the southeast. It has welcomed USA Hockey’s Men’s Rec Nationals for more than 10 years and also hosted a Southeast Sled Hockey Tournament in December. Additionally, USA Hockey’s U.S. Women’s National Team designated the venue as its training base in preparation for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

As Aughey says, “People like to come somewhere warm for ice.” SDM

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