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Breckenridge hockey, skate community encouraged by first week back on ice

Summit Youth Hockey ready to find creative solutions for winter season

Guests stand in line at the front door of the Stephen C. West Ice Arena in Breckenridge last week after the hockey facility opened for the first time in months amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Courtesy Elaine Collins

BRECKENRIDGE — The sport of hockey has returned to Summit County in the past week, as the town of Breckenridge’s recreation department opens the Stephen C. West Ice Arena with novel coronavirus regulations.

After a three-plus month closure, Chris Miller, the director of Summit Youth Hockey, said the town of Breckenridge has done a great job of understanding that access to the ice arena is important to the local community of young athletes.

Miller and other Summit Youth Hockey coaches have operated skills and open skate sessions since the ice arena reopened by reservation only July 2. The town is opening the ice to up to 25 mask-wearing skaters at a time for hourlong programming such as open-jam stick and puck sessions, Summit Youth Hockey clinics, freestyle skating, public skating and adult hockey clinics.

When out on the ice, hockey players are required to wear a face covering underneath their helmet and asked to keep 6 feet of distancing between them and other skaters. The ice arena has been open for about six hourlong sessions a day, five days a week, and is closed Sundays and Wednesdays.

As part of COVID-19 protocols, participants are allowed into the ice arena 15 minutes before their session. If they use the locker room, which is limited to six people at a time, they have 15 minutes to get dressed, without accessibility to showers. Participants with gear stored in lockers in the ice arena’s main open area are permitted to access and store their gear there. Recreation department personnel sanitize locker rooms and other areas in the arena in between each session. There are also no spectators permitted in the ice arena though parents are allowed indoors to help young skaters tie their laces before hitting the ice.

“Denver now is like two steps ahead of where we are doing private rentals and scrimmages, and leagues start next week,” Miller said. “We are not there yet, but I think the town has made a smart choice to taper the openings and the restrictions. Our community is different than Front Range communities. We need to protect our communities.

“A lot of mountain towns don’t have the option of opening their ice in summer, so to have 20-25 (skaters on ice at once) is awesome.”

Miller said demand for the ice rink picked up Monday after the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

“The demand is there,” he said. “I’ve gotten texts from parents looking for how they can get back on the ice. People are ready. People are excited.”

The Stephen C. West Ice Arena in Breckenridge is seen last week after the hockey facility opened for the first time in months amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Courtesy Elaine Collins

Dennis Vanderschaaff, the operations manager for the town’s recreation department, said Summit Youth Hockey is the single biggest patron renting the ice. Vanderschaaff added that participants, young and old, have been complying with the 6-foot distancing requirement.

Cody Aidala, the town’s ice programs coordinator, said demand for ice has been pretty high with the majority of programming has reached 75% of permitted capacity while a few sessions have sold out.

“And the majority are just happy to be back on the ice,” Aidala said. “They will do whatever it takes to get back out there.”

Vanderschaaff said he and town officials like Aidala have talked about what the next step in the ice arena’s opening might mean. They said they’ll need direction and approval from the county to open up further for, say, scrimmaging at Summit Youth Hockey’s summer camps at the end of the month. But they said they will continue to be calculated after being on “the slower side of things” to this point.

“We don’t want to be that facility that has an outbreak,” Vanderschaaff said.

Miller said he’s hopeful that when camps begin in a few weeks capacity numbers will be a little bigger to get full teams out on the ice to practice at the same time together, though he said camps can run capped at 20-25 skaters. Because camps divide skaters into two groups for on-ice and dryland training, that can help with the capacity regulation.

Looking ahead, Miller said Summit Youth Hockey has been working with hockey directors around the mountains and “fully anticipates a full season next year. That includes such plans as keeping all tournaments in state and limiting travel distances and overnight trips.

“We are getting very creative in making that happen but want to make sure people are reassured that hockey will happen and kids will have something to look forward to come September,” Miller said. “If (Colorado High School Activities Association) rules prohibit a season, Summit Hockey will step up and make sure high school students will have a place to play.”


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