Skating competition moves to Smithers

Lack of ice means it can’t be held here

Thanks to the cooperation of ice users in Smithers, the Houston Figure Skating Club is moving a major regional competition to that community.

A delay in the in-service ice date at the Claude Parish Memorial Arena, had meant the club can’t host the Kla How Ya (it means ‘welcome’) competition, which draws skaters and their families from around the region, in Houston.

The Smithers dates remain the same as had been scheduled here, Nov. 29-Dec. 1.

“[We] would like to thank Smithers Minor Hockey, Smithers Christian Hockey, and the Rubber Puckers for so graciously moving their ice around to accommodate us and make this work,” said Stephanie Auston, the Houston Figure Skating Club’s skating director said late last week.

Although now moved, the Houston club remains the official host of the event which is rotated through northwestern communities each year.

News that the ice at the Claude Parish Memorial Arena won’t be in in time for the event had devastated the local club, leading to fears it wouldn’t be able to host the event until its turn came around again in 2027.

Club volunteers, coaches and parents had been planning the event for a year.

Auston noted that moving the event will add difficulties.

“There are certainly challenges, our club is hosting an event in another community, there will be winter driving challenges, some will have to get hotel rooms as the days will be long and with fewer volunteers, there will be a bigger strain on our hard working volunteers,” said Auston.

“The skaters will have minimal ice (approximately 10 practice days to prepare) whereas other clubs have been practising three to five days per week since Labour Day or earlier,” she added.

And when the ice does go in at the arena here, Auston said the club will then focus its energies on preparing for its end-of-season carnival next spring.

“Figure skating is a struggling sport in some of these smaller communities (Fraser Lake, Burns Lake, Stewart and Fort St. James clubs have all folded over the last 5-10 years,” Auston noted.

“There are so many challenges that are faced – lack of qualified coaches, lack of ice, less funding from the government — to name a few,” she said.

“The Houston Figure Skating Club continues to thrive, despite the setbacks and we are confident that we will continue to do so.”

The delay in ice at the arena here is due to the length of time it is taking to install a new refrigeration system.

Compressors for the new plant arrived two and a half weeks in September than originally scheduled, setting back the installation start.

“The refrigeration technician expects to complete the install in eight weeks, but has strongly advised we schedule 10 weeks to successfully complete install before arena staff begin making ice,” District of Houston leisure services director Tasha Kelly said in a memo to ice users.

“Thus, we do not foresee users on the ice until Dec. 4. I can understand that this news is very disappointing and will be strongly felt across our community.”

A plant replacement followed an incident in Fernie in October 2017 in which three people were killed because of an ammonia leak at the arena there.

That prompted a province-wide inspection of refrigeration plants with many placed on the list for replacement to meet new standards.

“Following the Fernie incident in 2017, the demand for new refrigeration plants across the province has drastically increased; driving costs up and availability of technicians down. As costs continue to trend upwards, there is no breaking point in sight, as the few refrigeration companies in the B.C. are overwhelmed with work,” Kelly noted.