Concerns about ice conditions kept potential visitors at home
By Laurelle Walsh
The last-minute cancellation of a youth hockey tournament dampened the spirits of Winthrop lodging and business owners who had planned for an influx of visitors last weekend.
Six youth hockey teams from both sides of the Cascades and British Columbia were scheduled to play a three-day tournament at the Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink (WISR) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (Jan. 23-25).
When the forecast earlier in the week called for rain and temperatures in the high 30s, the organizers cancelled the tournament, according to WISR board president Jill Calvert. “The warm temperatures spooked them,” said Calvert, who had begun talking to the organizers in August about the January event. “There’s nothing we could have done differently. We’re at the mercy of the weather.”
Winthrop’s unrefrigerated outdoor rink depends on cold temperatures to maintain a skate-able ice surface. Because the facility can’t guarantee ice, it can’t ask for money up front, and the only contract is verbal — “a gentleman’s agreement,” said Calvert. “That’s just the way it’s set up.”
“Truthfully, at these temperatures [the tournament] would have destroyed the ice probably beyond repair,” said Calvert after participating in an open hockey session Saturday morning. In fact, the rink closed shortly thereafter for the remainder of the weekend as the condition of the ice deteriorated. With refrigeration, that would not have been an issue, Calvert said.
Several local lodging establishments that had been full were faced with empty rooms when they learned three days earlier that the group was pulling out, according to Central Reservations co-owner Kyrie Jardin. “Monday night [Jan. 19] one of the coaches called us and said, ‘I was told that the tournament was cancelled, so we have to cancel our reservations,’” Jardin recalled. “We called the rink Tuesday morning and they were surprised to hear about it [the cancelled tournament] for the first time.”
Tournament organizer Vaughan Rody telephoned Methow River Lodge and Cabins on Tuesday morning (Jan. 20) to cancel 25 rooms and two cabins for three nights, according to lodge co-owner Rich Stahl. “It’s huge for us,” Stahl said. “This was our weekend. We’re empty because of this.”
Because the Stahls had worked with the group before, they offered them a special 48-hour cancellation policy, instead of the usual seven days, said Dolly Stahl. As a result, the lodge lost most of the revenue for the rooms, which had been booked since October. The Stahls didn’t expect to make it up on such short notice. “We’re not Seattle,” said Rich. “Walk-in clients don’t happen at this time of year. Winter is a different deal.”
The lodge had housekeeping staff set to work last weekend who were told to stay home, the Stahls said. Similarly, Three Fingered Jacks Saloon & Cafe had scheduled extra staff to accommodate a group of 35 diners who never showed up, according to staff there.
Calvert estimates hockey families and coaches would have spent up to $50,000 in lodging, food and other expenses over the weekend. The cost of ice time — $2,200 — would be a minor part of the economic impact of a three-day tournament, she said. “I believe this thing is vital to the economy,” Calvert said.
WISR is set to break ground on a new refrigerated rink in May, with the goal of having the project complete in November, Calvert said. Plans for the new rink and expanded facility may be found at www.winthropicerink.com.
Funding for the project has come from the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office, with matching funds and in-kind donations coming from the community. WISR is currently within $34,000 of meeting its funding goals, Calvert said. Donations may be made on the WISR website.
“We’ve got to have a winter back-up plan,” remarked Winthrop Chamber of Commerce Marketing Director Kristen Smith, noting that in a low snow year, visitors will still be drawn to the valley for ice skating, hockey and fat biking, she said. Just as a strong winter economy is a hedge against a summer season spoiled by wildfire, attractions other than skiing are a hedge against a dry winter, Smith said. “The community has got to get behind all the winter activities,” she said.