Ice Chalet laces up for 2013 season


Nate Alden pauses from warming up his ice hockey players to confer with his wife, Jodi, at the YWCA Ice Chalet.

Nate Alden pauses from warming up his ice hockey players to confer with his wife, Jodi, at the YWCA Ice Chalet. Photo by Donna Lasater.

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WALLA WALLA — Autumn is moving toward winter and ice skaters now are in their element. Locally, the Ice Chalet skating rink at the YWCA recently opened for its new season, fall through spring, said Cami Waring, YWCA communications intern. At the Ice Chalet, people can take classes to learn basic and advanced figure skating and hockey.

The 2013-14 season promises to be another fun one.

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An ad from February 1965 publicizes the Ice Chalet’s grand opening. Construction on the facility began in 1964 with a gift from the Eugene Tausick Trust. “He saw a need or an opportunity,” said Jodi Alden.

“We are going to have many activities, including themed skates,” said Waring.

Themed skates, which include music and costumes, will be held the last Sunday of each month. Last year the Ice Chalet held a Disco Night skate that was very popular.

During the themed skates, the Ice Chalet will team up with food vendors set up outside, a convenience for customers to have dinner there or to get an easy take-home meal afterward.

This year, the Ice Chalet will again partner with Swire Coca-Cola to offer events such as the annual Skate with Santa, usually the first Sunday in December, said Jodi Alden, facility manager and director of skating.

The rink’s first event of the season, its Oct. 6 season opening, was a huge success, according to Jodi and her husband, hockey instructor Nate Alden.

Leading up to the opening, a lot of maintenance and preparation work went on in the rink, said Waring.

In addition to the normal preseason upkeep there were new additions, such as a flat-screen TV donated by parents of hockey students, and repairs to the electrical system.

There’s a new counter in the entryway where spectators can sit and watch the skating. Ice Chalet staff made repairs to the dasher board, which is the barrier around the rink. They also repainted the lines you see under the ice.

The sub-ice concrete has to be cleaned thoroughly before water is put down, otherwise the ice won’t be smooth enough to be suitable for skating.

“It takes three days for the building to cool down enough to start laying water down. When you see crystals on the floor, it’s cold enough to start,” said Nate.

A thin layer of water is put down every three or four hours using a fire hose. The rink requires many layers of ice over ice.

“If we’re in a hurry to put ice down, we work all night,” he said.

“Once you have 12 to 15 layers of ice, then you can use the Zamboni to put water down,” he said.

Once the ice has been gouged and marked up by skates, the Zamboni’s ice conditioner blade pulls up the snow that accumulates on the ice from skating, then puts water down to restore the ice surface.

Aldens provide lifetimes of skating experience

Jodi and Nate Alden have known each other since they were about 10 or 11, and have spent their lives skating. Both bring a wealth of training and experience to the students at the Ice Chalet.

“Both Jodi and I coached. I managed a facility in Binghampton, New York. She was the head instructor,” Nate said.

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A photo from February 1965 showing the interior of the newly-constructed Ice Chalet.

Jodi grew up in Walla Walla, and the Aldens moved back here in 1999 to be closer to family.

Jodi and Nate are both gold medalists in several disciplines in U.S. Figure Skating. They started out in regional competitions and expanded from there. Jodi skated in 1976 in the U.S. Nationals senior pairs division. Nate skated in the early 1970s in the senior men’s division. Both tested at a high level of proficiency in the U.S. and Canadian figure skating systems.

But competitive figure skating has a short life span.

“Like gymnastics, if you’re 17, you’re old,” Jodi said.

Turning professional, Jodi skated with the Ice Capades from 1979 to 1982.

Nate began skating when he was 10. He obtained a free coupon from a newspaper and decided to try the sport. When he went into the rink he saw a poster of Johnny Lettengarver skating. Nate was inspired immediately.

“I’ve got to do that — try to jump,” he said.

Nate’s epiphany was similar to that of many fledgling skaters, especially around the Winter Olympics, when interest in ice skating tends to increase. (The 2014 Winter Olympics are scheduled for Feb. 7-23 in Sochi, Russia.) Nate said the Ice Chalet has very good equipment for novice figure skaters, including two jump harnesses for learning jumps and rotations more safely.

The staff works hard to keep costs down for beginners, buying any equipment they find at thrift stores.

“This way, they can try it without investing in equipment,” Jodi said.

Events, classes offered for every skill level

The activities offered at the Ice Chalet are designed to keep young people entertained and focused.

“The Ice Chalet provides some real opportunities,” said Ann-Marie Zell Schwerin, YWCA executive director.

Someone who really knows what they’re doing can make any activity look easy and effortless. But like any other skill, ice skating takes a lot of practice.

Classes at the Ice Chalet accommodate all different levels of hockey and figure skating. Group lessons are offered for those who can’t stand up to advanced freestyle. Hockey classes are set up in four sessions of six weeks each.

“We totally outfit the kids so they learn with the equipment,” Nate said.

He feels the excitement of coaching young people in the sport. It’s a way to continue the program and inspire youth to have a wholesome and positive activity.

Once students commit to the lessons they get the benefit of some real character building, said Zell Schwerin.

“Nate teaches the skills, but also ‘here’s how you behave’ and ways to resolve issues,” she said. They emphasize that parents feel it’s a very safe environment, with security and a cohesiveness that means everyone looks out for each other.

Nate likes to say that keeping kids on the ice keeps them out of hot water, illustrating the importance of healthy activities. Skating is a healthy activity for exercise and endurance for all ages, he said.

“It’s a different kind of sport, fast and exciting, with a lot to offer. It’s something everybody can do,” he said. “We have a guy here who’s 72 years old. It’s an opportunity for kids and adults do something fun and exciting.”

“It’s a life sport,” Jodi said. “It’s an activity you can do throughout your life.”

She remembered an event in Canada where 80-year-olds were getting together to play ice hockey.

“It was so fun to see,” she said. Participants were happy to see each other and spend time playing the sport.

“In Canada, you see older couples dancing and skating together on a lake,” Nate said.

“They don’t have rental skates because skating is a rite of passage. When you’re about three, you get skates.” Jodi said.

Ice skating is a versatile pastime. You don’t have to get people together to have fun — you can skate by yourself. But you can also socialize if you’re so inclined — and the Ice Chalet is the ideal location to do this.

“You can interact with who’s there and make new friends,” Jodi said.

Karlene Ponti is the U-B specialty publications writer. She can be reached at 509-526-8324 or karleneponti@wwub.com.

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