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Vail’s bubble may burst

Scott N. Miller
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The Vail “ice bubble” may end up as part of the town’s history as soon as next season and that news isn’t sitting well with some of the bubble’s users.

Citing the costs of erecting and maintaining the inflatable building and refrigerated ice surface at the Vail Golf Club driving range, Vail Recreation District officials are considering a plan that would consolidate all the district’s skating activities at Dobson Ice Arena. The district board will discuss, and may decide, the bubble’s fate at its next meeting, set for 5 p.m., Tuesday, at the Vail Town Council chambers.

“If the Vail Valley wants to keep participation up in these programs, we need two surfaces,” Edwards resident Dave Peel said.



But district director Dennis Stein said the autonomous recreation agency will spend $50,000 or more on the bubble this season, not counting the roughly $190,000 the town of Vail will spend to set up and take down the structure and ice sheet.

In addition, Stein said, Alpine Bank, which has been storing the bubble the past few years at a cost of around $10,000 per season, has indicated to district officials it would like to spend its money elsewhere. Those costs, combined with dwindling user numbers at both ice rinks and declining revenues at Dobson, have district officials questioning the need for a second ice sheet in Vail.



“The numbers aren’t as good as we’d like them to be,” said Stein, who added that skater numbers were higher a few seasons ago. “From a financial and user standpoint, it just doesn’t make sense to have two ice sheets,” he said.

And, given the current user numbers, Stein said it’s possible to fit all the district’s programs into Dobson. But despite the district’s arguments, some ice bubble users say they’d hate to see the seasonal structure go.

“It’s not really an ice-time problem,” Peel said. “The problem is with kids getting on and off the ice in time to go home, eat and go to bed.”



While efforts are made to fit kids’ programs into the most appropriate times, “Every sport has those issues,” said Stein.

“I’m not sure there’s always a solution,” he added.

In addition to skate times, Peel, who has been in the valley long enough to remember skating at Dobson when it was still an uncovered ice sheet, said the arena was designed as a multi-purpose facility. As such, there are built-in conflicts with skating programs.

Stein acknowledged that special events do bring in more money than regular programs, but said he believes most scheduling issues can be worked out. And, at least for the moment, special events won’t present much of a problem.

Until some fire safety and other improvements are made at Dobson, the facility’s capacity is only about 1,500 people. That isn’t enough to attract many special events, said Stein. When the improvements are finished, though, there will be pressure on skating programs from special events.

Hockey mom Bernadette Simon of Eagle-Vail said moving all of Vail’s skating back to Dobson simply won’t work. “Ice time is so hard to come by,” she said.

“I’d like to see even more ice time for hockey,” Simon said. “We need it if these teams are going to be competitive. If we can’t have it here, let’s take it to Avon or Edwards.”

Bubble history

– September 2000 – Vail purchases the temporary inflatable $770,000 ice rink cover as back-up for scheduling strains at Dobson Ice Arena.

– October 2000 – Seventy-six golf course neighbors appeal rezoning for the “Bubble,” but the Town Council denies the appeal and approves operating it on the Vail Golf Course’s driving range for two winters. Appellants then win a temporary injunction, halting installation. A judge lifts the injunction, binding the case over for trial.

– November and December 2000 – Installation is delayed by weather and litigation.

– January 2001 – Bubble opens for the first time, three months behind schedule.

– April 2001 – Bubble comes down for summer season.

– November 2001 – Bubble is back for second winter season.

– January 2002 – Judge rules the town of Vail failed to properly notify public of rezoning process, declaring the rezoning moot and ordering the Bubble be removed.

– April 2002 – Bubble comes down; two-season permit expires.

– November 2002 – Council changes conditional uses for golf course zoning district to include “seasonal structures.” Bubble set-up commences.

– December 2002, January 2003 – Vail Recreation District board members say bubble not cost-efficient, threaten to refuse paying for the annual set-up and break-down costs, estimated then at $120,000.

– April 2003 – Council considers selling the Bubble.

– September 2003 – Council allocates $190,OOO to pay for set-up and tear-down costs of the Bubble for the 2003-04 season.

– October 2003 – Vail employees begin erecting and inflating the Bubble for its fourth season.


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