Clock ticking on ice bubble's season


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NWS Ice Bubble2 SM 3-13 Vail Daily/Shane Macomber A sunny Saturday afternoon leaves Vails Ice Bubble Empty.

Scott N. Miller
August 14, 2004

VAIL - Tick, tick, tick.

That's the sound of the clock ticking on Vail's ice bubble and its chance of rising at the golf course driving range for one more winter. If the bubble does rise again, the decision probably won't come until near the end of September.

Over the past several weeks members of the Valley Wide Ice Users Alliance, an informal group made up of adult and junior hockey interests, figure skating families and others, have been lobbying both the Vail Recreation District and the Vail Town Council to put up the bubble for one more season, while the users try to find a permanent home for the giant inflatable structure.

The bubble - owned by the town - is currently in storage. Council members have agreed to keep it in storage, at least for a while. Ice users, meanwhile, are pushing for a permanent home for the structure and are targeting Edwards' Miller Ranch as a likely location.


If the bubble does move - a very large "if" at the moment - that move is still at least a year away, which leaves the ice users lobbying for one more season at the golf course.

With that lobbying, though, comes commitment. In this case, ice users are working on a way to cut the town's cost to erect the bubble, then put as many skaters as possible into that facility and Dobson Ice Arena to cut operating losses.

The town budgeted $190,000 for set-up and tear-down of the bubble last season. At a recent town council meeting, alliance representative Stephen Connolly said the group is ready to put up as much "sweat equity" as needed to get the bubble off the ground again.

Between volunteer labor, donated lodging and other efforts, Connolly said, "We're confident we can trim some of the budget" to build the bubble.

Skaters are also preparing a proposal to the recreation district to fill time at both Dobson and the bubble. That commitment could also include an "ice surcharge," in which groups promise an extra few dollars per skater. If revenue levels for operations don't meet projections, those surcharges would be paid to cover the difference, Connolly said.


The ice users' proposals are still being developed, but Connolly said the group will have its projections set in time to give recreation district board members time to evaluate them before that group's Aug. 24 meeting.

"(The board) may be skeptical, but they're willing to give us a chance," Connolly said.

That skepticism comes from operating losses that approached $50,000 last season. And one continuing skeptic on the board still needs to be convinced the ice users can back up claims of large demand for ice time.

While the ice users claim 35 groups with as many as 800 members, ice time went begging at the bubble last year, and Dobson's time wasn't filled, either.

With that as the reality, recreation district board member Scott Proper said he isn't sure running the bubble another year - and, in effect, taking skaters off Dobson's ice, which costs more to use - is the best use of the district's resources.


"The same issue arises a thousand times a day in this country," Proper said. "It isn't a matter of philosophy, or a group's worth ... you have to pick and choose what you do."

Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or smiller@vaildaily.com.

Key dates:

Aug. 24: Vail Recreation District meeting. The board is expected to decide whether it's willing to operate the bubble for another season.

Sept. 21: Vail Town Council meeting. That group is expected to make a final decision whether to set up the bubble one more time.