The Ice is Changing: Riverfront Park Ice Palace’s Past and Future

The first time my daughter and I strapped on a pair of ice skates, all I could think of was my husband as a small boy when he fell and sliced his inner thigh open with one of his skates. That’s an image to make you want to strap on eight-inch long blades, isn’t it?

This is not one of those stories. There were no stiches involved in this outing. I did my best to get my glide going across the ice rink and to avoid the falling part. My daughter took to the ice with the happy coordinated athleticism she always seems to demonstrate, taking off like a born skater and putting her tentative and uncoordinated mom to shame. According to my 9-year-old, it reminded her more of skate skiing than it did roller skating. “Can we do this again?” she asked as soon as we stepped off the ice.

Yes, we can. But if you want to join us you’ll find that the ice in Spokane is changing. This will be the last season under the pavilion for the Ice Palace at Riverfront Park. After this winter the ice rink will close permanently. However, a new place to skate is currently under construction as part of the Riverfront Park Redevelopment Project. The new facility, a refrigerated path of ice called an ice ribbon, will open next winter.

The Ice Palace offers beginner skating lessons, group skating, and a homeschool skating program. It also hosts a local curling group and facilitates the Gonzaga PE class and several sanctioned youth hockey leagues. S’mores Night and a few other family activities are in the works, which provides the perfect motivation to get the kids out to skate in this final year.

This year the Ice Palace is open from Oct. 26 to Feb. 26. Admission is $5 per adult (13+) and $3.50 for skate rentals. If you are under 13, over 55, or have a military ID, admission is only $3.50.

The Ice Palace owes its existence to Expo ’74 and the facelift given to the Spokane riverfront in the years following the World’s Fair. It took four years of work to transform the Expo site into Riverfront Park in its current form, and what was originally the U.S. Pavilion became the covered ice rink we now know. The park — ice rink, petting zoo, amusement park, arcade, IMAX theater and all — was dedicated May 5, 1978, by then-President Jimmy Carter.

More than 33,000 people skate at the Ice Palace each year according to Jeff Bailey, Assistant Director of Riverfront Park. Bailey noted that this figure does not include the few thousand people who come for hockey, curling, and group lessons.

Riverfront Park’s new skating facility will offer something completely different than the classic rink setup. The ribbon promises some slight up and down terrain, and the “pond,” as the small area adjoining the ribbon is called, will allow beginners and parents with small kids to practice in a more protected setting. At 16 feet wide and 650 feet long, the ribbon will be on the corner of Post Street and Spokane Falls Boulevard. Spokane will be one of the first cities to offer a skating experience like this on the west coast. The design firm Stantec designed a similar but larger facility in Chicago, as well as ones in Indiana, Minnesota, and Washington D.C.

Adjoining the ribbon will be a joint facility that houses the tickets and concessions for the ice ribbon and the SkyRide gondola that takes passengers across the Spokane Falls. Outside the building, potentially in the middle of the ribbon, will be outdoor fire pits and a place to kick up your heels when you’re out of breath from skating.

Project designers are landscaping with year-round use in mind, with the intention of keeping the flow of the park attractive in the summer months. While there are no final plans in place for the facility’s summer use, possibilities include making it pedestrian-friendly for outdoor festivals and concerts. The $2.2 million ice ribbon project has faced a few obstacles, but ultimately it promises to provide a unique urban outdoor opportunity for the community.

Riverfront Park is changing and this will be the last year to enjoy the Ice Palace. So find time to experience the ice rink before its rebirth in ribbon form. //

Crystal Atamian grew up in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Her first loves are hiking and lemon ice cream. After spending summer 2016 in the Alps, she is convinced that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear. Crystal wrote about birding tips for families and newbies in our June issue.

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