A bunch of outdoor skate diehards wake up daily wondering how the surface of the Virginia City Ice Rink fared in the night. “Winter temps aren’t as consistently low as they used to be, so we wring our hands a lot!” says Scott Kelley, Virginia City resident and owner with his wife, Amy, of the popular Gravel Bar and Banditos in Ennis. Scott, along with Justin and Stacy Gatewood and a legion of other Virginia City resident volunteers babysit the outdoor ice rink, treating it like the family pet.
The tiny mountain city park ice rink is the passion of many from the Ruby Valley to the Madison Valley and beyond. The Virginia City mayor, Bob “Dude” Erdall who in the late 1970’s spearheaded the creation of the skating rink to give kids and adults an excuse to be outside in winter, says today that the rink is THE most visited and used winter venue in Virginia City. Scott Kelley calls it the Field of Dreams syndrome, “Build it and people will come!” And, skate they do, for free.
People who drop in to skate are surprised to discover in the warming hut that if they can find skates to fit their feet, they can tie on a pair to take a spin on the ice. The warming hut is filled with figure and hockey skates plus helmets in many sizes. Hockey sticks and Broom Ball brooms fill barrels ready for the game. If your twirls, pirouettes, and pressing-the-zone moves aren’t quite up to snuff, folding chairs are provided for confidence building and practice on the ice. The Virginia City Ice Rink is a community happening providing fun for youth, families, and individuals, even dogs!
Maintenance of an ice rink can be daunting, requiring constant vigilance. Bob Erdall says he and others have turned over the care of the ice rink to the younger generation. The outdoor rink must have snow removed, be sprayed with fresh water, frequent restoration of the surface, and organize donated equipment and skates. When Big Sky decided to buy a larger Zamboni for their skating rink, the corporation arranged to donate their small Z-100 resurfacer to the Virginia City Ice Rink. With the Zamboni pulled behind a simple garden tractor the ice can easily be restored to a smooth glassy surface without tons of labor.
Many upper mid-west transplants living in Madison County carry a fond spot in their hearts for hockey and figure skating. Donations of equipment and money trickle in enabling the non-profit Virginia City Ice Rink to offer programs such as Broom Ball with official rules, Pond Hockey Tournaments with teams competing from Ennis, Bozeman, Virginia City, and Big Sky as well as Youth Hockey opportunities on Fridays that attract up to 20 kids of all ages turning out to play.
One Sunday afternoon while skating with my own family, an elderly couple donned skates and proceeded to ice dance, twirling and dipping in elegance around the rink. We couldn’t believe our good fortune to be able to watch this serendipitous performance. The couple said they were from Butte and drove down especially to try the ice.
Virginia City Ice Rink
Corner of E. Idaho and Edgar Streets
Virginia City, Montana
Open seven days a week during the winter (weather permitting)