December-Soaked Storm Thaws Rinks, Quickens Slopes

While outdoor rinks lost ice to the rain, skiers and snowboarders enjoyed faster slopes.

DULUTH, Minn.- Wednesday night’s unprecedented December thunderstorm froze things to a halt at local outdoor hockey rinks like Duluth Heights, but proved beneficial to skiers and snowboarders.

“Warm-ups and stuff like that have taken us out but not rain like that. Not rain where we’re getting thunderstorms and kids are running down in the middle of the night from the thunder,” said Rink Director Zak Radzak.

For the first time in the nine years that he’s been in charge of the Duluth Heights Hockey Rink, it was after rain that Radzak cleared snow off the ice — that lost about two inches to the thunderstorm.

“The rain really screwed it up you know and the other side of the ice here where we skate down in the small rink that’s all washed out that’s gone that’s all blacktop now,” he said.

Once they rid the rink of snow, they’ll put water down and let Mother Nature take care of the rest before re-opening Friday.

But according to Radzak, the weather is not always the biggest roadblock to that. “The worst enemy for hockey rinks, to be honest with you, it’s the community not following the rink closed signs.”

“We spend a lot of time out here working late nights flooding and it takes one person to come out on a warm day and skate on the ice and put ruts in, that’ll set you back 2-3 days at least,” said Radzak.

Meanwhile, Spirit Mountain Thursday was full of skiers and snowboarders who didn’t mind the chilly wind.

“Conditions are, got pretty icy but we’re lucky to have this fresh snow to mix in with it as it’s getting cut,” said Joe Petko, Outdoor Operations Lead.

“People cutting into it, it’s mixing up and a lot of folks are saying it’s better than they expected,” he said.

As he manned the lifts at the grand avenue chalet, Petko said skiing and snowboarding on the snow-covered ice is not easy.

“It’s a lot faster is one thing,” he said, “Takes a little bit more experience to stay in control.”

According to Petko, they expect to make more snow overnight and open up another run or two in the coming week.

And while the cleaning work back at Duluth Heights rink is tough, Radzak says it’s worth it to see skates — and smiles — hit the ice again.

“The best rewarding part is coming up leaning on your shovel watching the kids and hearing the laughter because it brings you back to those days when you were there,” he said.

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