Winter Wonderlands | Sports Destination Management

Winter Wonderlands

Seeking Cold-Weather Destinations for Snow and Ice Sports? These Cities Have You Covered
Jan 30, 2017 | By: Michael Popke

Sometimes, destinations can surprise you with their versatility from season to season. Case in point: Detroit, Michigan, which is quickly making a name for itself in the winter sports market.

“Nothing can compare to the transformation this city is going through now,” says David Beachnau, executive director of the Detroit Sports Commission, the entity responsible for bringing tournaments and championships to a city challenged for most of this century by suburbanization, corruption, industrial restructuring and the decline of the auto industry. “I would argue that Detroit is one of the hottest hockey markets in the country, and probably the world.”

And it’s about to get hotter.

The $733 million Little Caesars Arena is scheduled to open in September 2017 as the new home of the National Hockey League’s Detroit Red Wings, with a seating bowl that could be the most intimidating — and intimate — in the country.

“While Detroit’s current Joe Louis Arena has about 40 percent of its seats in its lower bowl, Little Caesars ups the ante, with about 10,500 of its total of 19,600 in that location,” reported in November. Plus, gondola seating above the ice will offer unusual views of the action on it. Beachnau predicts the new arena will attract such major events as the NHL All-Star Game and the “Frozen Four” NCAA Ice Hockey Championships.

Joe Louis Arena, incidentally, is set for demolition to make room for a hotel and convention center – something that will increase the area’s hosting capabilities.

The Detroit market already is home to several hockey rinks, many with multiple ice sheets, and these will host such high-profile events in 2017 as the Toyota/USA Hockey Girls’ and Women’s National Championships, the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Women’s World Championship and the Big Ten Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament.

Despite the struggles Detroit has faced in recent years, Beachanu says his commission has continued to promote the city as a sports destination.

“Sports has always been a centerpiece for Detroit,” he says. “And the new arena is going to be a game changer for us. The challenge is getting people to come here and see the city for themselves.”

What follows are profiles of six other winter and ice sports destinations intent on hosting everything from hockey and figure skating to curling and fat bike racing. One even promotes ice hockey as part of a summer vacation package.

Minot, North Dakota
Minot, a city of 50,000 in north-central North Dakota, boasts several hockey rinks, both indoors and out. “We have the capability of hosting world-class events, and we have done that,” says Ron Merritt, executive director of the Minot Park District, which operates the Maysa Arena — home to one permanent sheet of ice and two seasonal sheets.

The multi-purpose facility opened its third sheet in late 2016 with seating for up to 2,500, bringing total seating capacity in all three rinks to about 5,500. The venue is home to the Minot Minotauros of the North American Hockey League and the Minot State Beavers of the American Collegiate Hockey Association. The Minot Area Youth Skating Association (from which the arena takes its name) also uses the rink for practices and competition.

Merritt says the addition of the third rink should help the city attract even higher-profile ice events, including figure skating competitions — especially now that Maysa Arena is the only facility in North Dakota with three rinks under one roof.

Another seasonal ice rink at the All Seasons Arena in the North Dakota State Fair Event Center provides practice opportunities for local teams and handles overflow competition from the Maysa Arena, according to Beth Feldner, marketing director for the North Dakota State Fair.

Additionally, the Minot Curling Club rents a nearby facility for winter leagues and hosts the Grainbelt Premium Shirtsleeve Bonspiel near the end of the season, which draws curlers from out of state and Canada. “The curling club is a huge piece of culture for the Minot community,” Feldner says.

Snohomish County, Washington
Curling helps shape the culture in Snohomish County, Washington, too — where the 2017 USA Curling National Championships are scheduled for February at the Xfinity Arena in Everett. The event is presented in partnership with the Granite Curling Club of Seattle and Snohomish County, and 10 men’s teams and eight women’s teams are expected to compete.

“Figure skating and ice skating are the big thing for us,” says Tammy Dunn, sports development director for the Snohomish County Sports Commission. “USA Curling is a unique event for us to host, and we honored to do so.”

Because curling ice requires a different texture of ice from that used in hockey and figure skating, Xfinity Arena, where the Western Hockey League’s Everett Silvertips play, will be blocked out for two weeks ahead of the USA Curling Nationals to reset the ice.

“This will help grow the sport of curling and bring interest to the Pacific Northwest,” Dunn says, adding that the Granite Curling Club’s solid relationship with Canadian curling organizations also bodes well for the region. “Where we’re positioned — two hours from British Columbia and with direct flights from many Asian countries — we’re capable of hosting international events.”

Several area hockey and figure skating organizations use the Xfinity Arena, which offers two competition ice rinks, as well as the public Linwood Ice Center and the private practice facility OlympicView Ice Arena.

Xfinity hosted the U.S. Women’s Hockey National Team’s pre-training camp in March 2016 before traveling to Kamloops, Canada, for the IIHF Women’s World Championship, where Team USA won the gold medal.

OlympicView boasts the region’s only Olympic-size ice sheet and welcomes up to 10 tournaments every year between October and March, Dunn says. In partnership with the Seattle Skating Club, the venue also hosts Ice Fest the first weekend in June — a major figure skating competition that incorporates all disciplines of the sport and draw skaters from all over the Pacific Northwest.

Wenatchee, Washington
Located fewer than 200 miles southeast of Snohomish County is Wenatchee, where skiing rules. Mission Ridge Ski & Board Resort is now in its 50th season and boasts a 2,000-acre basin with four chair lifts and 36 designated runs. The facility’s renowned snow-making capabilities earned its crews a place on the mountains in Sochi, Russia, during the snow-starved 2014 Winter Olympics.

Mission Ridge, whose local ski team hosts a handful of sanctioned competitions every year, recently purchased nearly 800 acres, and expansion plans call for more opportunities for beginning skiers and snowboarders. “Snowboarding is coming,” promises Matt Kearny, coordinator of sports tourism for the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The Western Region Federation of International Skiing’s Open Ski Race will be held at Mission Ridge in March with participants flying in from throughout North America and parts of Europe.

Additionally, the Toyota Town Center is a 4,300-seat multi-purpose arena that accommodates hockey and figure skating. It is home to the Wenatchee Figure Skating Club, the Wenatchee Curling Club and the Wenatchee Wild — the only U.S. team in the British Columbia Hockey League and the league’s leader in spectator attendance.

In October, the venue welcomed 279 skaters representing six western states at the U.S. Figure Skating Regionals — the second time in three years the Toyota Town Center has hosted the annual event. “That shows the quality of venue we have and the strong work ethic of the local figure skating club,” Kearny says.

Ogden, Utah
There’s no limit to the activities you can host with snow — a fact that Powder Mountain Resort leveraged by hosting the first-ever USA Cycling Fat Bike National Championships in 2015, and then again in 2016. Fat bikes and snow represent a match made in winter sports heaven, and these days, fat bike is one of the fastest-growing segments in the cycling community, according to Micah Rice, USA Cycling’s vice president of national events.

Last year’s fat bike event in Ogden took amateur riders 12 miles across Powder Mountain’s Hidden Lake terrain, while pro- and open-class riders traversed 18 miles. The Nordic Valley Resort also welcomes fat bike competitions.  

Snowbasin Resort in nearby Huntsville was a host for the 2002 Winter Olympics in the downhill, combined and Super-G ski competitions. Today, Snowbasin still hosts downhill races; in January, the venue welcomes the FIS NCAA Alpine Races. The facility also serves as a training hill for the Australian ski team.

While Ogden is not as well-known as other nearby winter sports destinations such as Park City or Salt Lake City, Sydnie Furton, marketing and public relations manager for Visit Ogden, is eager to point out the advantages her city holds. “We are only 35 minutes from Salt Lake City International Airport,” she says. “Many people think that it’s quicker to go to Park City for races. In reality, it takes the same amount of time or less to get to Ogden or Snowbasin Resort from the airport as it does to go to Park City or the Salt Lake City area resorts.”

Decatur, Illinois
While Ogden is known for snow, Decatur is an ice destination. In fact, this city of about 70,000 residents in central Illinois was named runner-up in Kraft’s annual Hockeyville competition in 2015 and received $75,000 to remodel and upgrade locker rooms and add new paint and more color throughout the Decatur Civic Center’s ice facility.  

The venue dedicates about six months of the year to ice operations and is home to the Decatur Youth Hockey Association and the Decatur Blaze, a junior team in the U.S. Premier Hockey League.

Every year, the civic center hosts the Tournament of Friends, a popular full-ice competition for Squirt and Mite teams from several states. Sponsored by the DYHA, it’s held in memory of Geoffrey Geoghegan, a former DYHA player who died in a fire in 1988. Participants range in age from seven to 10, and the association estimates 120 or so players will compete this year.

“It’s good for the community,” says Chris Brodnicki, general manager of the Decatur Civic Center. “Everybody reaps the benefits of this event.”

Although there is other ice available in Decatur, talks have been ongoing about adding a second sheet of ice to the Decatur Civic Center to bring more events to town.

Rapid City, South Dakota
What if your city’s biggest winter sport event doesn’t even take place during the cold-weather months? Just ask Todd Tucker, director of sports and events for the Rapid City Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Our biggest hockey tournament is during the summer,” Tucker laughs. “The Rushmore Cup is a new youth tournament now in its second year and held over two weekends in June.”

A total of 28 teams from several surrounding states will compete at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Arena, and the event is sponsored by the Northland Hockey Group out of Blaine, Minnesota.

The Rushmore Plaza Civic Center’s ice arena offers a temporary ice surface and can seat more than 5,000 hockey fans, while the Roosevelt Ice Arena boasts a competitive ice sheet with seating for 1,000 and the Rushmore Thunderdome can hold 3,000 spectators.
“Hockey is something we’re continuing to grow,” Tucker says, adding that, like Decatur, Rapid City has been a finalist in Kraft’s Hockeyville contest.

Another reason you might want to schedule a hockey tournament in Rapid City during the summer?

“Everybody has seen Mount Rushmore in pictures, but not everybody has seen it in person,” Tucker says about one of the most iconic sculptures in the United States, located a 30-minute drive from the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. “We help build summer vacations with a hockey tournament.”

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