If you freeze it, they will come.
When temperatures plunge, rather than hibernating indoors, grab your skates, skis or snowshoes and take advantage of Mother Nature’s winter gifts.
There is an abundance of ice rinks scattered throughout the United States, as well as facilities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and more. Most outdoor venues are located in the north where the climate is more accommodating to winter sports. Southern destinations depend on technology to create an icy landscape instead of relying on nature, but all ensure that no matter where you are, you can get your winter fix.
Ice Rinks: Indoor or Outdoor
Minnesota leads the country with over 450 ice rinks peppered across the state while Michigan and Massachusetts are a distant second and third with 132 and 131 rinks respectively.
Muskegon, Michigan is no stranger to ice arenas and winter sports. The LC Walker Arena is a 5,000-seat facility ideal for hockey events and is home to the Muskegon Lumberjacks, the US Hockey League Camp with 300 participants and will host several regional and club championships in February.
The Muskegon Luge and Outdoor Sports Complex is one of only four in the United States. The complex has over an acre of outdoor rinks which includes 700 feet of skating trails. The well-lit ice trail is eight to 10 feet wide with its own Zamboni machine to maintain it.
Down the road in Holland, Michigan, The Edge Ice Arena offers two NHL size rinks. In March of 2011, the American Club Hockey Association chose The Edge to host the Division III National Tournament which brought in 16 teams with 480 athletes and coaches from all over the country.
“Teams were in town for five nights resulting in over 1,000 room nights,” said Sally Laukitis, executive director of the Holland Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
But don't overlook some other states and cities that also offer choice facilities. La Crosse, Wisconsin, for example, has multiple rinks, offering planners at least seven sheets of ice within a 30-minute drive. The Onalaska Omni Center offers two sheets of ice and ample seating for tournaments. “There are several USA Hockey events held there,” said Brian Meeter, executive director of the La Crosse Area Sports Commission.
The Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum is home to the New York Islanders in Long Island, and is one of 30 National Hockey League (NHL) facilities across the country that provides ample seating, concessions, parking and amenities for tournaments. Just make sure to book early, since securing space means working around the pros' schedules.
In Kankakee, Illinois, the Ice Valley Centre Ice Arena boasts an NHL-size rink and is home to Purdue University Ice Hockey, Kankakee Coyotes Youth Hockey and Kankakee Curling Club. Several high school, college and youth tournaments are hosted at the arena on an annual basis.
In Peoria, Illinois are two ice rinks ideal for various events. The Peoria Civic Center seats 9,919, has eight locker rooms and ample parking, and is home to the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen. The Owens Recreation Center features two rinks, one designed for speed skating.
Eau Claire, Wisconsin is home to three ice arenas. The Chippewa Falls Ice Arena has the distinction of hosting not just hockey and other skate sports, but the annual Ice Bowl, which allows bowling on its north rink. Hobbs Ice Arena offers not just public skating sessions and pick-up hockey, but figure skating lessons as well. The Hobbs Municipal Ice Center, a third facility, was built in 1974 with a $5.6 million renovation completed in early 2010 adding additional office space, third rink, additional seats, training room, new lighting and more.
Want even more ideas on where to find great ice? ArenaTrack (http://arenatrack.com/) provides a full list of rinks and arenas in both the United States and Canada, encompassing over 200 facilities.
Hockey might well be the regional religion, but other winter sports also have their devotees, and their facilities.
“Hockey is the mainstay for Walker Arena,” said Bob Lukens, community development director with the Muskegon County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “You can also do ice shows and curling events there.”
The Muskegon Luge and Outdoor Sports Complex also has five miles of lighted cross-country skiing as well as several unlit trails designed specifically for daytime use. “Speed skating has grown as well and broomball clubs are gaining more time in the indoor rinks too,” Lukens adds. “The rinks are making time for those types of sports.”
The same rings true in Holland, Michigan. “The Edge Ice Arena lends itself to hockey,” said Laukitis, "and we host a lot of hockey tournament from September to March. There is an average of 10 teams for 22 weekends.” Those tournaments result in more than $4.5 million in economic impact for the Holland area.
Hockey isn’t the only game in town in LaCrosse. “There has been more interest in other sports to use the rink,” said Brian Meeter. “For example, figure skating has grown, and they have been making sure the ice meets the standards of those events.”
Mount La Crosse, another winter destination, offers ideal training for downhill skiers. “Mount La Crosse has quite a bit of elevation change,” explained Meeter, “anywhere from 7,000 to 8,000 feet. It is the steepest ski hill in the upper Midwest and we are one of only two locations that can host certain types of downhill racing. Olympic athletes come out here to train because it’s a shorter run and they can do more runs in a shorter time and they get a lot more training.”
LaCrosse also boasts not just a number of downhill ski events at Mount La Crosse, but hotels with reasonable room rates and with plenty of flexibility to accommodate the athletes and any ancillary activities.
“With downhill ski events, you have to have a room for skiers to wax their skis,” explained Meeter. “The hotels have been converting conference rooms into ski wax rooms.”
Luge continues to be the main attraction at the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex. “Both local and regional groups will come in to do their luge competitions and time their runs,” said Lukens. “They do impromptu competitions, and the facility has been used as a training facility for the Olympic Luge team.”
Also in Muskegon, the LC Walker Arena will host the Michigan Speed Skating Championships in March, and U.S. Figure Skating, USA Hockey, American Hockey League and American Club Hockey Association have all chosen western Michigan to host a variety of events in the recent past.
Skating on Great Ice
Another way to find nice ice? Go west. In years past, San Jose, California might not have been a traditional location for winter sports, but these days, it's on the leading edge, thanks to facilities like the HP Pavilion. With more than over 17,000 seats for ice events, the pavilion is home to the NHL San Jose Sharks and will act as host to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships this month. This event, held annually since 1914, will mark its 11th year taking place in the state of California and the second time in San Jose.
“We host a lot of prestigious sporting events throughout the year,” said Meghan Horrigan, director of public affairs and communication with Team San Jose. “We have a lot of unique sports complexes in the area. HP Pavilion is a great venue for San Jose but it also hosts a lot of sporting events besides the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, so we are very well-rounded.”
The U.S. Figure Skating Championships are expected to draw approximately 1,500 athletes, coaches and officials utilizing 5,400 rooms and generating $12.5 million in direct visitor spending. The host city for this 10-day event each January is selected three years prior to the championship. San Jose proved itself the first time around, making the decision easy to bring the event back in 2012.
“I think it was how well the event was executed the first time we hosted,” said Horrigan, “and the opportunity that San Jose brings through our partnerships with the hotels and community. It’s a seamless way to navigate through San Jose and we really provide that customer service. “
Creating Success Stories
Geography and weather aren't the only factors in a successful winter sports event. A supportive community, flexible hotel accommodations and ample restaurants will also play a major role.
What if a planner needed snow and ice for sports, but not anywhere else? They can explore Holland, Michigan, where a sophisticated snowmelt system ensures the snow stays on the trees and hillsides rather than its city streets and sidewalks. (And yes, you really read that last sentence).
“We have hundreds of shops and restaurants that are locally-owned,” said Laukitis. “Teams enjoy coming here because they are unique. We can have three feet of snow fall, but downtown is totally snow-free.”
Brian Meeter says that LaCrosse has become adept at satisfying athlete, despite the weather.
“You have to be resourceful and make changes based on the weather,” said Meeter. “If you can’t do a snowshoe competition on the snow, then you do a 5K instead.”
For those times when snow evades the Muskegon area, the Winter Sports Complex created a wheeled luge system. Snow and ice aren't required because the track is made of Fiberglas, and the sleds have wheels with speeds exceeding 25 mph.
Partnerships: The Resources that Last
In Muskegon, strong partnerships have become a trademark. “The community and the planners work closely together to make sure we have competitive pricing,” said Lukens. “We provide a variety of services and offer transportation with a bus and trolley system to transport athletes and spectators to the venues.”
You don’t have to be planning a large event to appreciate those assets. Youth tournaments are often the bread and butter of small and mid-size markets. Those planners are usually volunteers or parents assisting with individual teams, but their needs are just the same.
“The team manager will research available tournaments through the state website and will meet with team parents to do a general consensus on which tournaments to participate in,” said Jennifer Cartwright, team manager of the Elmira Jackals Youth Team. “We normally compete in three tournaments each season and plan four to six weeks in advance. It basically offers more ice time and more competition for the kids.” The Jackals are sanctioned through USA Hockey.
“We choose based on the venue, competition and affordable pricing in the hotels,” she continued. “The manager will shop around for the hotel. We want to be close to the rink and we want a pool so the kids have an evening activity.”
The Western Michigan Sports Commission has been working with planners to promote Michigan’s West Coast as the premier venue for hosting a diverse level of youth and amateur sporting events. And while naturally, the organization knows the area's winter niche is in ice and snow sports, it stands ready to help planners with a range of other athletic events, including tennis, gymnastics and baseball. Signature events have included the Meijer State Games of Michigan and the Transplant Games of America.
San Jose utilizes its local resources, literally. “The figure skating opportunity allowed us to showcase our strong history of figure skating in the community,” said Horrigan. “We have a number of key influential leaders from San Jose within the skating community like Kristi Yamaguchi and Peggy Fleming. Those champions are right here and we were able to put a local face to championship figure skating. It was a very exciting opportunity to hear from our own local heroes.”
So whether it’s a world class ice arena, local celebrities or some of the best snow and ice, winter sports are sure to be a hit this season.