From Hamar to Calgary, the world’s top rinks are in distress

The Norwegian skating stadium Viking ship is in danger of collapse due to rising energy costs. The European Championships allround and sprint at the beginning of January could be the last competitions in Hamar. “The skating heritage is at stake here.”

Eric van Lakerveld

The Viking Ship is not the only prominent ice rink to experience a difficult winter. The artificial ice is cracking worldwide. The pain of the energy crisis is being felt on all courses where the international title tournaments will be held this season. In addition to Hamar, this also applies to Thialf in Heerenveen (World Championship distances in March) and to the Max Aicher Arena in Inzell (World Championship juniors).

The Dutch top teams already noticed in the autumn that something was going on in Inzell. The Bavarian village is the permanent place for many professional teams for a last training camp before the competition season. This year they came too, but went back earlier, grumbling about the ice and chill in the hall.

The ice rink in Inzell falls under the regional government and, in line with government policy, decided in the fall to save energy. The heating went down and that had an impact on the ice floor, which benefits from a somewhat higher air temperature. “I’m in it twice,” says Nadine Seidenglanz, top sports manager at the German skating association. “They came for the optimal conditions and there were none.” At the same time, the need to save energy is obvious to her. “I had feared stricter measures.”

Closing ice rinks, for example. “We try to prevent that by keeping consumption as low as possible. The most important thing is that we can skate.”

Government support

Closure threatens for the Viking ship. Because although Norway has become rich from gas and oil supplies, prices are rising along with the trend. Director Tom Erik Hovde saw his energy bill triple from about 660,000 euros to almost 2 million. The municipality of Hamar, with 30,000 inhabitants, cannot afford that. Placing additional burdens on citizens is not an option, says Hovde. The municipality will assist up to and including the European Championships. After that it stops.

Perhaps it would be better to turn it into an indoor football hall, he suggests. “We have to come up with ways to keep the youth active here. That is our task as a sports location.” And if that is profitable, maybe a few more weeks with ice cream can be done in the coming years. But that’s nothing compared to the 150 ice days now.

Irene Schouten in action in Hamar.  Image Pro Shots / Erik Pasman

Irene Schouten in action in Hamar.Image Pro Shots / Erik Pasman

The Norwegian looks with some jealousy at Thialf, where the national government has stepped in. Although it did not seem that way when the cabinet decided in November to compensate swimming pools for energy prices, but not ice rinks. After objections from the Lower House, sports minister Conny Helder promised that the Heerenveen ice rink would fall under the swimming pool policy.

In addition, one million euros will be made available to make Thialf more energy efficient in the long term. This should prevent the government from having to close the gaps even more often. The province of Friesland, co-owner of the track, has confidence in the future. The solar panels on the roof, which have been disabled for some time due to an insurance issue, must function again. The government’s million will be invested in an energy storage facility at the complex.

Russia and China

Long track speed skating is a small sport in global terms and when drawing up the competition calendar the ISU skating union has relatively little choice between ice rinks. Russia and Belarus have lost weight due to the war in Ukraine, China kept its borders closed for a long time because of covid. China and Russia are the countries with the most indoor modern ice rinks.

In practice, the ISU is mainly dependent on Europe, Japan and North America. But not everything is fine there. The Olympic Oval in Calgary was the record track for decades, but is in danger of losing that status. The machinery that was built in 1988 to make ice cream is outdated. The University of Calgary owns the Olympic ice rink and has no budget to overhaul the ice machines.

Aging is also at play in Salt Lake City, where the Utah Olympic Oval is owned by a foundation. In recent years, he managed to take care of the cooling system with financial support from the state of Utah.

This problem also occurs in Hamar. Hovde: “Our machines are forty years old. If we replace them, we can already save 1 million kilowatt hours.” Hovde doesn’t know if he will manage to keep the Viking ship as an ice rink. But the wish is there. “Let’s hope there is still a future for us.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *