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Ice oval flooding started Sunday, should be ready for Christmas

Ice Oval Society continues fundraising campaign to refrigerate 400-metre track and extend skating season

Don’t complain too much about the arrival of chilly winter temperatures in Prince George this week.

With daily high not expected to exceed minus-12 C for the next five or six days and lows dipping to minus-18 or -20 and no snow in the immediate forecast, conditions are ideal to make ice at the Exhibition Park outdoor ice oval.

That’s good news for skaters hoping to take advantage of the 400-metre oval over the Christmas break. Above-freezing temperatures and very little snowfall the past month delayed flooding by the volunteer crews and they finally got their hoses out on Sunday to begin the process of making that ice thick enough to skate on.

“It’s looking good this week so we’re out there four times a day doing four floods as much as we can,” said ice oval volunteer Neil Bilodeau. ”In this temperature, about minus-12 or -15, you usually allow four between floods. You start at eight in the morning and do two more at noon and 4 o’clock and back at 8 o’clock.”

A group of about 15  or 20 volunteers are on the list to help with the oval maintenance and in the initial stages, until the ice is thick enough to allow use of the water truck, a crew of eight is needed for each flood. There are four water stations, one in each corner, and two people are needed for each hose to make it a smooth operation.  Bilodeau says it takes about 45 minutes or an hour to complete each flood. Once the water truck is in operation, just three people are needed. The truck holds enough water to cover the entire ice surface on one pass. Crews also have use of Zamboni ice resurfacer to do light floods and scrapes and two bobcat loaders to clean off the snow.

“We’re always looking for more volunteers because we try not to put too much onus on the ones who do volunteer,” said Bilodeau, now in his fourth year of making oval ice.

If the weather holds, he expects to have the ice ready for skaters in about 10 days.

Last year was a record year for oval visitors who skated there, an average of 275 skaters per day, but the season was short due to fluctuations in the weather when it got too warm to keep the ice from melting.

“That was definitely a record, compared to past years, it was pretty heavily used, for sure,” said Kathy Lewis, president of the Prince George Ice Oval Society. “We also had our shortest season ever, I think it was less than 60 days, and that was disappointing ,but unfortunately I think that’s a sign of things to come.”

The society continues to accept donations through its website, to try to raise enough money to get the oval refrigerated. That would require a concrete track with buried piping to allow the flow of glycol and an on-site chiller. The cost of that project is in the range of $5-6 million.

“We have a fundraising campaign going, we just need some leadership in that area and our current board just doesn’t have that,” said Lewis.

“We’ve made some progress and people are starting to donate more. I’m hoping we’ll build up enough of a fund we can attract federal or provincial government partners in it. The value of the oval is so tremendous, it’s something we definitely have to work towards.”

The ice oval is used by recreational skaters and competitive/masters athletes in the Prince George Blizzard Speed Skating Club. It’s also one of the venues used for the Prince George Iceman multisport endurance race in February. That event usually draws hundreds of people to the oval but the pandemic has put that on hold and this year’s Iceman is a virtual event.

Lewis encourages regular users to buy season memberships at $25 for individuals or $60 for families. Drop-in users can take advantage of daily rates - $2 (individuals) or $5 (families). When it is in operation, the oval is open to the public most days from 11 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. It’s located on the west side of Exhibition Park, adjacent to Kin 3 arena.