Ashley Chally thinks the next Kristi Yamaguchi or Mario Lemieux could come from Bend.
It makes sense. Already, Central Oregon is the high-desert home to a healthy collection of the country's strongest athletes—from runners, to snowboarders, rock climbers, cyclists (road, mountain and cyclocross), nordic skiers and whitewater kayakers. And with an ice rink befitting the National Hockey League in the works, why wouldn't Bend add hockey and figure skating?
Chally, 26, is a former international-level competitive figure skater and current skating instructor at Seventh Mountain Resort's modest ice rink. Her students range in age from 2 to 62.
Recently, Chally helped a 13-year-old Bend boy go from novice to expert in a matter of weeks. The young athlete, who attends an east coast school, wanted to make the hockey team, despite having never been on ice. After just a couple weeks of focused instruction, the boy returned to his prep school and did just that.
"We have a lot of kids interested in hockey," said Chally. "If we had a real program, I know many who would be successful if they could skate year round."
By next winter, that scenario will be a reality, as a seasonal ice rink will open, the crown jewel of the Simpson Avenue Site & Pavilion, a $11.3 million project funded by the $29 million Bend Park and Recreation District bond approved by voters last November. Located on a 11-acre parcel between Colorado Avenue and Simpson Avenue (in an area best known for the Mt. Bachelor Park n' Ride lot) the Simpson site improvements will also include multi-sport playing courts, locker rooms, lobby, equipment concessions, office space and parking. There even has been talk of hosting farmer's markets onsite. One thing is certain, however. The ice rink—which will be outdoors, covered and regulation size—will greatly expand the region's ice skating options, which are currently only two fun, but pint-sized offerings.
"You won't feel like you're on a hamster wheel," Chally said of the new rink.
The Simpson Avenue ice rink, which will be much larger than the rinks in Sunriver and Seventh Mountain Resort—the only other rinks in the area—will be sheltered from above by a 120-foot-wide by 240-foot-long catenary roof. And though open air, a transparent membrane sheet strung from floor to ceiling will shield the ice from sun, wind, snow and rain. Preserving the ice, Chally said, should be a top priority.
"If it's over 45 degrees, ice melts and there's not much you can do to salvage it," Chally said. "Covering it to keep the sun off will help."
Ryan Mejaski, a long-time area youth ice hockey coach, agrees.
Eight years ago, Mejaski started coaching 5-to-13-year-olds, but so few kids signed up that parents often had to skate with the youngsters just to help field scrimmage squads. Since then, the program has exploded. Last year Mejaski had 55 kids sign up. And this year, when the park district took over the program, demand was even higher—so much that kids were being turned away, something a bigger rink will solve.
Though park district recreation directors are unsure exactly how the new programs will work, from November to March there should be robust ice hockey and figure skating programs, as well as open skate time. It is unclear if there will be a cost associated with using the rink on a drop-in basis. ,
New this season at Mt. Bachelor is a groomed, get-back trail for Nordic skiers that leads from Emil's Clearing to the Nordic lodge. Tentatively called Easy Up, the roughly quarter-mile long trail is a less-steep alternative to Screamer, and offers uninhibited views of Broken Top and the Three Sisters, thanks to its side-hill nature. Bring a camera.
New Maston Trail. As the temps hit the low 50s, reaching past the skis and grabbing the mountain bike may be the wisest move (our scouts report the Tumalo trails are in top form). Try this ride (from the Juniper trailhead on Newcomb Road): Ride/run up a steep hill out of the parking lot and hang a right on a newly flagged trail and follow it until it joins the well-used canal trail. Go left and keep exploring.