Heidi Hanson has seen a lot of rookie ice skaters this winter at the AK Sk8 Shop in Soldotna. It’s not hard to tell who’s new.
“A lot of them, I’ve tried to teach them how to put the skates on and how to lace them," she said. "They have never skated in their lives.”
Skating has become a popular answer to the winter blues in Soldotna. With the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex closed to public skate, new and experienced skaters alike are turning to the city’s natural rinks to get their fix.
Like Arc Lake, near the landfill on the Sterling Highway. Soldotna Parks and Recreation is holding Saturday afternoon skates there this January.
“We had 300 people on Arc Lake, which seems like a lot, but if you spread 300 people across Arc Lake, it seems like everybody’s 50 feet away, or 100 feet away," said Soldotna Parks and Recreation Director Andrew Carmichael.
It’s a more high-tech operation than it’s been in the past. The department used CARES Act funding to buy two overhead lights for night skating and staff are throwing water on the ice every day instead of once a week.
On Saturdays, they’re playing music and lighting campfires. They've also brought in a porta potty and cleared more space for parking.
Other Alaska cities are making similar efforts during this COVID winter. The city and school district in Anchorage partnered to maintain eight rinks in that area.
In Kenai, the Parks and Recreation Department also bought lights for the ice at Daubenspeck Pond, said director Bob Frates.
“Not so much to provide lighting. It was more of an ambiance, I guess, to create a nice ambiance to the skating rink," he said.
The Kenai Multi-Purpose Facility is open to free skate for an hour and a half each day. But Frates said those slots are usually reserved by hockey players.
The department measures the ice at Daubenspeck Pond weekly and posts updates on its Facebook page and at the pond, which is near the Kenai Walmart.
Hanson said she’s sold skates to about 50 families this winter.
As for her her advice for first-timers, “It would be to definitely wear elbow pads and a helmet," she said. "And obviously, if your skates aren’t sharp, you’re not going anywhere. That’s another thing I have to teach people. If your edge is not grasping and you’re just sliding, it means it’s time to resharpen.”
As a backup, Carmichael said there’s help available at Arc Lake.
“In addition to the skates, we also take our skating aids, which are called ‘Bobby the Seals,’" he said. "They look like seals with a tail, that kids or people who are marginal skaters or just figuring out can lean on and skate with in a safe manner.”
Soldotna also maintains a skating path at Soldotna Creek Park.