Sarah Benson’s daughter and son weren’t even born when she began lobbying to build an indoor ice rink in Hailey. Now, 14-year-old Morgan and 11-year-old Zach are reaping the benefits of what Mom and others accomplished.
The 33,000-square-foot Hailey Campion Ice House, which cost approximately $6 million, opened in November with seating for 450 around a regulation-sized rink. It features an exercise area, four locker rooms with restrooms, a conference room, skate rental area and George’s Café, named for the late San Jose Sharks owner and champion of the Sun Valley Suns, George Gund III.
The rink is expected to transform youngsters into Wayne Gretzky-wannabes and boost the economy of Main Street, Hailey.
“It’s quite simply a game changer for hockey in the Valley,” said Chris McAvoy. “It’ll double the amount of ice time that my son Teagan and other players will get. And our kids will get to play more games at home against stiffer competition.”
The rink will also pack hockey players into area hotels in January and February, said high school hockey coach Pete Prekeges. “Imagine 300 people a weekend filling 150 rooms between Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley—the economic impact could be huge.”
While ice hockey is sometimes called “the fastest game on earth,” efforts to build the rink were 15 years in the making—ever since parents began hosing down ice in Roberta McKercher Park. Hailey dentist Ron Fairfax and attorney Jim Laski tried several locations on for size, including one in Lions Park and one near Albertsons, before they finally found, in 2010, a home on city property near the Hailey rodeo grounds. But the project stalled when a major donor withdrew his donation after the 2008 economic crisis.
After some time, the project began to inch forward again with donations from the Nancy Eccles and Homer M. Hayward Foundation, the Spencer F. and Cleone P. Eccles Family Foundation, and the Arthur E. Johnson and Helen K. Johnson Deer Creek Fund.
The game changer came when Deer Creek resident Lynn Campion Waddell provided an additional gift of $4 million from the fund that her grandparents—the Johnsons—created at their kitchen table in Colorado in 1948. With that, Hailey Ice broke ground in Spring 2014.
“I don’t even ice skate,” said Campion Waddell. “But I had been involved with the drug coalition and I knew that when kids get in trouble is usually right after school. I also knew that the primary facility catering to youth—the Wood River YMCA—was up north when most of the youth lived in Hailey and Bellevue. And I knew that parents were taking their kids to the ice rink in Sun Valley at 9 and 10 at night because that’s the only time they could get on the ice.
“I’m hoping this gives families something they can do together,” she added. “And in summer we can use it for things like weddings and concerts.”
A “Boots & Blades” party in September gave supporters a chance to buy $1,000 commemorative pucks, with the profits adding finishing touches in the form of hockey boards, rubber matting, benches and scoreboards.
“This came about with a lot of community support,” said Benson, the director of the nonprofit organization. “We got donations from $5 and up—all of them counted, and all of them gave our supporters ownership in the rink.”
Hailey Ice volunteers predict the rink will attract 25,000 skaters a year. They are committed to providing free ice time—a big deal considering ice time can cost up to $300 an hour. They will offer Learn to Skate programs, hockey leagues, curling tournaments, figure skating classes for youth and adults, and hockey sleds for veterans through Higher Ground.
Volunteers also plan to flood the rodeo grounds for an outside rink as weather permits.
“I’m super excited about the rink,” said Ike Buxton, a high school student who helped develop the rink’s dry land training facility. “This has been a long time coming.”