No Hibernation Allowed!

Unless you grew up in or had a career opportunity in the northern climates of our country, you probably won’t understand or believe how much we care about winter sports programming in our City of Madison.

For all of you who are working on the Gulf Coast of Florida or in sunny Southern California, please do not e-mail or call us when you read that our overnight temperatures are 20 below zero in January or that we just had 12 inches of snow fall in the past 24 hours. We probably won’t be able to take your call.

But we will be outside getting our facilities ready and enjoying the wonderful opportunities that exist for winter sports in our parks.

Breaking the Ice

Like many northern cities, Madison offers a host of winter outdoor recreation opportunities. With our many natural bodies of water, outdoor ice-skating probably attracts the largest number of participants.

The pressure is always on to get the skating areas open as soon as possible… even when the weather is not cooperating. Because we have to deal with snow, the ice has to be thick enough to support snow plowing and snow blowing equipment before we can drive on it.

If we get on too early or discover a soft spot over a natural spring, we can have a piece of equipment and an operator go through the ice. Many safety practices are in place to prevent this from happening, but it is a risk that we always think about. A heavy snowfall before the ice is thick enough also places an insulating layer of snow over the ice and keeps it from freezing thicker, which adds to our challenges.

We take many measurements of the thickness of the ice. This is done by drilling a lot of small holes through the ice and measuring the thickness.

We keep track of how the rink is freezing. The same body of water may have four inches of ice in one area and only one or two inches of ice in an adjoining area. This is due to springs and water currents under the ice.

Thickness is not the only measurement, however. Dark gray ice is usually much stronger than the same thickness of milky white ice, which is more common in the late part of the season. Even after the rinks are open for the season, we re-check ice thickness whenever we have a change in weather conditions.

We never assign a person to be working on the ice alone. Our standard practice is always to have another person available in case of an emergency such as a simple fall or major situation such as a vehicle going through the ice. Falls are common even with safety equipment attached to boots, but going through the ice is fortunately not very common.

Many of our skating areas are designed over shallow water. Simple rescue equipment is available at every location with deep water, and telephone or radio contact is available at every location.

We will go on the ice with small equipment with four good inches of ice. We need at least six inches of good ice before pick-up truck sized equipment is allowed on the ice.

Whenever possible, we like to have the doors off the equipment on the ice or, at a minimum, all the windows open on the ice equipment. Some equipment is designed with an escape route through the roof.

Because ice-skating draws such large crowds, separate areas have to be maintained for recreational skating, hockey and speed skating. These user conflicts are similar to those all of us encounter in any shared area.

Because of the heavy use and the lack of true programming, we have taken the course of action that separates the three major user groups by space.

Special areas are provided for hockey (with boards) away from the areas designated for family use. The speed skating area is separate from the general skating areas. All areas are lighted for evening use.

Madison is fortunate in being able to provide rental ice skates at many locations for those people who have not invested in skates or for the many school or civic groups that plan outings at our parks.

Cross-country skiing is also very popular here. We have had two winters with less than normal snow fall, so when any snow is on the ground, we see lots of people.

User fees are required at two of our prime areas. These areas receive the greatest amount of trail grooming attention. Our crews maintain over 33 kilometers of cross county ski trails of which 5k are lighted.

There are two distinct user groups for XC skiing and our maintenance program has to accommodate both of them, so we are fortunate that our city is able to offer lighted trails at Elver Park.

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