It’s opening day at Los Alamos’ open-air skating rink and Andy McCown is thrilled to be the only one on the ice during the lunch hour session.
“Because I’m still a little rusty,” he says as he chops and glides his away around the regulation size rink.
McCown enjoys skating during his noon break from the lab and knows it won’t be long before he has plenty of company at the popular recreational facility operated by Los Alamos County.
“It’s even better on a cold, clear starry night when I bring my wife,” he says. “It can be really romantic.”
The rink at Los Alamos is finally open for the season, delayed by a couple of weeks due to emergency repairs to the flood damaged roadway in front of the complex off West Road.
But now the cool, shady canyon will once again resound with the slap and thunk of hockey pucks careening off the boards or the latest hit music drifting out of the facility’s sound system.
The rink is generally open seven days a week, all day long and well into the evening during the three month skate season, says Dianne Marquez, Recreation Program Manager for Los Alamos County.
“We have lots of public skating and one of the one of the largest youth hockey leagues in the state,” she says.
About 300 kids a year are usually enrolled each year including kids of all ages they play teams from Colorado and Arizona.
The Los Alamos High School varsity hockey team calls the rink home and plays teams from Taos, Santa Fe, Rio Rancho and Albuquerque.
Adults with some hockey experience and equipment can show up on Friday around noon or on Sunday and Tuesday evenings for pickup games.
Those just interested in just skating round can find plenty of times available on the schedule too.
There’s plenty of special events too, including an ongoing tradition on Christmas Eve, the Luminaria Skate.
Marquez says farolitos are arranged on the ice around the edge of the rink while colored lights are draped over the glass on top of the boards.
Staff members have found that a hockey puck placed in the bottom of brown paper bag with a small battery operated light works just fine, Marquez says.
Then all other lights at the facility are turned off and Christmas carols are played over the rink’s sound system while visitors enjoy an evening of skating and holiday merriment.
“It makes for a very special evening,” she says.
Hot chocolate and other beverages are included with admission, she noted.
The Los Alamos rink has been in operation since the 1940s when members of the former boys’ school there dammed up the creek to form an ice skating pond in the canyon.
Over the years the all-volunteer Los Alamos Skating Association made improvements, added buildings and other equipment including one of the original Zamboni ice grooming machines.
The machines invented by Frank Zamboni were designed to scrape used ice clean and then lay down a new layer of water to freeze and form a clean sheet of ice for skating.
The early model obtained by the skating association was mounted on a World War II-era Jeep and provided excellent service until a 1973 fire in its garage left it damaged.
The association wrote to the Zamboni Company inquiring about repair parts for the aging contraption and heard back from the company that the association was in possession of one of the earliest machines the company had ever built.
It turned out that the Zamboni at Los Alamos was only the fourth unit the company had turned out, way back in 1952, and it had toured with the Ice Capades before being replaced by a newer model, according to information about the unit provided by Paula Cooney, Brand Manager for Zamboni of Paramount, Calif.
Zamboni # 4 had ended up in the hands of an Albuquerque ice skating rink operator who would later sell it to the skating association of Los Alamos in 1960.
At the time the Albuquerque rink offered the Zamboni and other equipment to the association for just $1,500 but required all of it to be hauled off within a week’s time.
So a caravan of association members drove down off the hill in their pickups to Albuquerque where they loaded up the gear and then headed home at a snail’s pace with the lumbering Zamboni sandwiched between them.
Once the Zamboni Company discovered this early model, they asked to swap for it and then had it restored. It now rests on display at the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, Minn.
In the meantime the Los Alamos rink was taken over by the county in the mid-1980s and has since traded in the swapped model for a newer one, Marquez says.
In 2002 the county made improvements to the rink by putting in a refrigeration system which has vastly improved ice conditions, Marquez says.
The rink has skate rentals and a snack bar, offers skating lessons for youths and adults and rents the ice for parties or other special occasions.
For more information see the county’s website at http://www.losalamosnm.us.
If You Go: From Santa Fe take US 84/285 North to the Los Alamos turnoff at Pojoaque and take NM 502 to Los Alamos. Follow Trinity Drive through town to just past the hospital, turn left onto Diamond Drive and then make a quick right onto to West Rd.