Arguably, BCE’s most distinctive and celebrated business endeavor is the WinterSkate seasonal ice skating rink. Remarkably, the seeds of WinterSkate were first planted when Chris was a child, as he grew up helping with his grandfather’s Christmas tree lot in Southern California. The original business plan was, in fact, a Christmas tree lot with a small ice skating area; as it turned out, the ice skating was much more popular than the Christmas trees… and the rest is history!
Originally produced in downtown Boulder, WinterSkate was consistently a popular destination for Boulder County residents, occupying several temporary locations between the years of 1999-2003 (including the corner of 16th and Pearl Streets, the Civic Plaza on 13th Street, and the formerly vacant lot at the corner of 9th & Pearl Streets). However, a more permanent location for the seasonal rink was a goal, as a building was being constructed at the 9th & Pearl site. In 2002, Chris took an active role in the creation and development of what was to be a permanent rink at One Boulder Plaza; WinterSkate spent the winter of 2002-2003 in this location.
At this point, BCE was faced with a conundrum: WinterSkate was founded upon the concept of a Currier and Ives print brought to life; due to restrictions, we were not able to recreate the cherished image at this location. Fortunately, a new opportunity was about to present itself: in 2003, the Louisville Downtown Business Association (DBA) approached BCE with hopes of bringing an ice skating rink to their downtown area. Recognizing the positive impact that a seasonal outdoor ice skating rink would have on their business district and neighborhoods, the City of Louisville and DBA helped BCE fund the start-up costs for the rink, and in 2004, WinterSkate moved to its new, permanent location in Historic Downtown Louisville. Each November since that time, the historic Steinbaugh Pavilion and adjacent parking lot are transformed into a winter wonderland! Created with the intentional illusion of stepping onto a frozen pond, the 6,500 square foot rink consists of a network of plastic tubing, glycol, sand, wood, and a 100-ton chiller. In Louisville, BCE has had the freedom to recreate the rink that the Boulder County community had grown to know and love: free parking, free horse-drawn carriage rides, holiday classics on the big screen, concessions in a covered and heated seating area, and the largest square footage of surface ice for any outdoor rink in the county. In the ten seasons thus far, Louisville has provided a perfectly charming backdrop for our WinterSkate rink.
It may also be noted that, with the exception of some indoor facilities, attempts at facilitating quality outdoor ice skating rinks—including one on the Boulder County Courthouse grounds— have often been met with failure. An important factor of our success is that BCE has always maintained that WinterSkate is more than a mere skating rink; it’s a full experience for all 5 senses: as families huddle around the open fire to warm their hands, the aroma of warm apple cider and the tune of classic holiday favorites waft through the air; in the distance, the clip-clop of the horse-drawn carriage can be heard approaching the pavilion as children gather in line to purchase hot chocolate from the concessions window. Mark Zaremba, former president of the DBA, agrees that the charm of WinterSkate is extraordinary: “It’s such a special place. Families and teens and seniors skating together… laughing, and basically having a great old fashioned wintertime experience.” Truly, WinterSkate spans a wide demographic scope in its popularity, visited daily throughout the season by everyone from preschoolers to senior citizens. Mark adds:
“Imagine! Tons of youngsters playing outside with nary a video game in sight!" Indeed, from the feedback received each year, one of the most common remarks is from parents in awe that their children would choose a healthy outdoor activity after school. Open daily from mid-November through Presidents’ Day, countless opportunities are available for families to participate together in a Colorado winter experience without having to drive all the way up to the mountains.
Something that’s always been very important to our organization is the concept of “giving back”, and we’re constantly looking for new and creative ways to reach out and help others; it is abundantly clear to us that we are in a unique position to do so. One of the local non-profits that has always been close to our hearts is There With Care (TWC), an organization that serves as a support to hundreds of families with children facing critical illness. They lovingly and compassionately provide “a wide range of thoughtful and fundamental services to children and families during the critical phase of a medical crisis.” In 2009, we began partnering with them to develop the “Skate With Care” program at WinterSkate; throughout the season, BCE accepts donations on behalf of TWC and in return, each contributor skates for free. Dana Bacardi, Vice President of Development for TWC, has been a part of both TWC and Skate With Care from the very beginning:
There With Care is truly grateful to be the beneficiary of the WinterSkate “Skate With Care” events that BCE puts on for us each holiday season. Not only does this unique and fun-filled event help TWC meet new people to tell them about what we do, but it allows us to engage the community by giving them ways to participate. Whether it is signing up to be a volunteer, agreeing to adopt a family for the holidays, bringing in diapers or food for the collection bins or making a gift in the collection jars, it truly makes a difference, each and every year, in the lives of the special families and children we serve.
In 2013, BCE reached out to the Children’s Hospital to explore the idea of having kids from their Burn Camps Program come out to WinterSkate and participate in a fun and safe outdoor activity; since their mission is “To improve the lives of burn-injured children through the use of enriched curriculum and path of adventure in a safe environment”, we thought WinterSkate would be the perfect venue! Melissa Ebone, Marketing & Fundraising Coordinator for the Children's Hospital Colorado Burn Camps Program, wrote that this was “the perfect opportunity to create an experience we've been wanting to offer our burn families.” The first annual Children’s Hospital Burn Programs skate event took place on February 13, 2014, and it was an amazing afternoon for all involved. Brad Jackson, Clinical Psychologist for the Burn Team, wrote: “This was our first event of this kind... We loved the mix of folks who were attending (families from the Burn Camps, local firefighters, hospital staff, and the BCE team). It was so much fun and we look forward to making this an annual event together. Thank you, BCE!”
Truly, one of BCE’s strongest sources of pride as an organization is the support of and relationships with local non-profits. In the spirit of the season, we donate thousands of dollars’ worth of contributions: requests for gift certificates (by the March of Dimes, WOW! Children’s Museum, and the Louisville Rec Center, to name just a few) are never declined; nearby schools, including Louisville Middle School and St. Louis Catholic School, take advantage of the free field trips offered by BCE; hundreds of Free Skate passes are donated to myriad organizations and programs (including Big Brothers & Big Sisters, the Kids at Risk Program, and Parenting Place) to provide a fun and healthy activity for students who might otherwise not afford the opportunity. The availability of discounted group rates makes both holiday and birthday parties in especially high demand throughout the season, such as the “Chanukah on Ice” event that BCE sponsors each winter. In addition, the rates for WinterSkate have increased only twice in 15 years, and no child or family has ever been turned away for lacking funds: it is important to BCE that this is an activity that is inclusive of everyone in the community.
It has always been BCE’s goal that WinterSkate not only provides a safe, family-oriented venue, but that it also serves as a gathering place for friends and family. Our own staff sets the standard by behaving more like an extended family than mere colleagues; you can find us working together at the rink on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day, as it has become a tradition of sorts to spend the day together while serving the community the best way we can. Traditionally, one of the keys to WinterSkate’s success has been the devotion and integrity of BCE’s full-time and seasonal staff, as well as our creative and well-intentioned promotional efforts, some of which include the low-cost concession prices, competitively-priced skate rentals and fees, skating lessons, and free horse-drawn carriage rides (paid for by BCE and the DBA). Jessica Krammes, a longtime Louisville resident, feels that WinterSkate “is something everyone looks forward to! It’s such fun watching the children grow up, coming to WinterSkate year after year, having the time of their lives in the middle of winter in this small town.” In fact, much of the WinterSkate part-time staff itself is made up of local teenagers who have grown up skating at the neighborhood rink.
Another reason WinterSkate is so popular with locals is the ripple effect of the boost to the economy during the holiday season. By attracting the public to the ice skating rink, it was correctly assumed that it would also draw business to the restaurants and shops that occupy this section of town. Garrett McCarthy, former owner of the Old Louisville Inn (OLI) restaurant that was located next door to the Steinbaugh Pavilion for many years, acknowledged that OLI would always see an increase in business during the three month season. “WinterSkate has definitely affected business in a positive way,” he reflected. “It has given Louisville a ‘Norman Rockwell’ appeal.” In addition, a community bulletin board we have placed within the pavilion ensures that anyone in the community who would like to post a flyer, poster, or advertisement is free to do so.
Since WinterSkate is a temporary establishment, the rink and skate shack must be dismantled at the end of each season. Since its inception in 1999, BCE has donated tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of materials from WinterSkate back into the community, including over 2,500 tons of sand to the Boulder Reservoir beach (approx. 150-225 tons per year), 100 tons of sand to the Niwot Little League baseball fields, lumber and building supplies to Resource 2000 and Habitat for Humanity, and boxes of bottled water to local volunteer fire departments. In 2002, BCE even donated a 480 square foot “skate shack” to the Boulder County Sheriff, which is still used today as the garden shed at the site of the Boulder County Jail Garden Project, a one acre garden which serves as a service project for local inmates and also provides fresh produce for the jail kitchen as well as Community Food Share.
We sincerely feel that the success of WinterSkate cannot be defined monetarily, but rather from the joy brought to our communities throughout the duration of each season. BCE’s WinterSkate rinks have been a tradition for thousands of people, and it has been BCE’s honor to help create countless warm memories for so many years—and hopefully many more to come.