As my friends here in Alaska know, I've been to almost every long-track skating venue in North America, and many in Europe. What many Alaskans may not realize is how unique the skating oval in Cuddy Family Midtown Park is. We are very lucky to have a long-track ice skating oval, suitable for recreation and competition, in the middle of our city.
First, skating ovals are a rare bird in the United States. There are currently only six in the country, and two are former Olympic venues (Salt Lake City and Lake Placid, New York). Salt Lake has beautiful views outside the oval, but its architecture is not what many would call beautiful: Eastern European apartment block comes to mind. Lake Placid has lovely views for a track stashed between a high school and an indoor ice rink. If you prefer non-Olympic venues, then you are headed to the suburbs of Milwaukee or Minneapolis. The Pettit Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is again an indoor facility, and sports perhaps four windows in the entire building. Roseville, Minnesota near Minneapolis is an outdoor venue, but the last time I was there, the installationwas not yet complete. Not to mention that like some ovals north of the border in Canada, the wind from the North Pole doesn't only pass over polar bears and tundra on its way south. In other words, the wind blows a lot, and it can be amazingly cold.
Canada has a better selection of skating ovals (not a surprise, since they have more winter than the Lower 48). With the exception of Calgary, Alberta and Fort St. John, British Columbia, all of them are outdoors.
The keys to a facility that serves a community come down to a few things. First, the facility is accessible to transportation. You can't beat Cuddy Park for that. It is just off two major arteries in the city, and is readily accessible by public transportation. Second, it is lit better (by a state-of-the-art LED light system) than any other outdoor skating facility in North America. Third, it is readily accessible to the public – again, what other facility is open 6 a.m. to11 p.m., and is essentially free? (But, please support AnchorageSkates! Don't forget to buy your oval pins from the group). And finally, did I mention the views? If you skate here, your default view is of snowcapped mountain peaks – all day, every day. Sunsets are painfully pretty here.
Skating began as an outdoor sport, and Alaska is an outdoor state. The work done by the Alaska Community Foundation's AnchorageSkates, and many other partners to build and improve this facility deserves attention. The best recognition anyone can give the visionaries who gave us this facility is to use it. Bring your children and grandchildren here to skate, and appreciate how lucky they are, and how much better their future will be because they played outside in Alaska in the winter.
John Monroe has been an Olympic speed skating coach with programs in the Netherlands, Poland and the United States. He currently is program director for the Anchorage Skate Club.
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