Ice would not seem hard to come by in Fort Chipewyan, a tiny outpost on Lake Athabasca in northeastern Alberta. A small aboriginal community, it is accessible in winter only by a 100-mile road built from ice.
As in most places in Canada, hockey is vital to Fort Chipewyan. An indoor rink is flooded with water and frozen, which requires temperatures around 5 degrees Fahrenheit. But when spring comes, the community is accessible only by boat or seaplane, the ice road melts away, and with it, so does the hockey season.
For a small community like Fort Chipewyan, population 1,007, a refrigeration system for a year-round ice rink has been too expensive. But early this month hockey became a year-round sport as this isolated town celebrated the opening of what manufacturers call the first full-size synthetic hockey rink in North America.
“Hockey has always had a big place in the community, but without a refrigeration unit, after the ice is melted by April, there was no skating till the next year,” said Alecleon Courtoreille, who grew up in Fort Chipewyan and is responsible for maintaining its rink each winter. “The only thing we’d do is play floor hockey with a ball.”
When the roof on Archie Simpson Arena — and its natural, frozen rink — collapsed under the weight of snow in 2005, the town investigated buying a refrigeration unit to extend its three-month hockey season, but the nearly $2 million price tag and high yearly maintenance costs ended that possibility.
A synthetic rink cost $559,000 to install and requires a fraction of the maintenance. Players use real sticks and pucks and the same skates they wear on real ice.