Nick Maricich sailed across Sun Valley’s outdoor ice rink, the blades of his skates leaving a thin line.
There is perhaps no one alive today who is more familiar with that ice rink—his father Herman Maricich ran the ice rink for decades. Nick performed there countless times, wowing spectators as he jumped over barrels.
But the rink that his father had introduced in 1956 had been retired after 67 years. And this was his chance to test the new ice.
Sun Valley Resort spent 10 months digging up and replacing both the outdoor and indoor ice rinks this past year, finishing the day before the first Sun Valley on Ice show of the 2023 season on July 6.
“Everyone’s thrilled we have ice back in Sun Valley,” said Scott Irvine. “Sun Valley is known as a destination ski resort, but it’s also a destination skating resort with people coming from all corners of the globe—from Hong Kong to Germany—to skate here.”
Sun Valley has offered ice skating since it opened in 1936. But resort officials took great pleasure in announcing that “on this spot” would be built the world’s first outdoor refrigerated ice rink when it held its groundbreaking for the current ice rink in 1956.
“Union Pacific wanted this to be world-class, one-of a kind,” said ice rink manager Scott Irvine. “And, to the best of my knowledge, it’s the only full-sized outdoor rink in the country.”
But the rink showed its age these past few years as leaky pipes and equipment failures had workers coaxing the mechanical refrigeration system through one more day. It conked out just before the final show of the 2022 season on Sept. 2.
What followed was a spectacular show of a different sort. Excavators dug up the rink, finding Union Pacific’s original rail ties underneath. Workers cut the original steel piping in sections and front loaders hauled them away.
Workers placed and wired 13 miles of high-density pipe an inch in diameter underneath the outdoor rink and another 13 miles of pipe underneath the indoor rink, which had been built in 1971.
Then came 60 trucks of concrete bearing 30 truckloads for each rink. Workers had to pour an entire rink through pumper booms in one continuous flow over a 12-hour day. Then, workers using concrete power screeds equipped with lasers smoothed out the concrete with what looked like rotating fan blades.
Sun Valley employees then spent multiple nights hosing down the rink with firehoses, building the ice up layer by layer.
“This had been planned for awhile, so we were able to get materials in time. But heavy snows did hamper us and so did 42 straight days of rain in the spring,” said Irvine. “But we got it done in time, thanks to an amazing team of Sun Valley employees and Everything Ice of Pennsylvania, which is one of the best in the business.”
The indoor rink’s new LED lights improve lighting at half the energy consumption. The pipes contain a glycol solution, sucking hot air out to keep the ice cool. No one has to come in at 7 every morning to control the temperature manually. And there’s more refrigeration capacity to provide more consistent ice in warmer months.
“Summers keep getting warmer each year so we’ve built in room for that,” said Irvine.
In addition to providing ice time for guests, Sun Valley hosts a robust year-round calendar that includes the Sun Valley Summer championships, part of the National Qualifying Series; the Sun Valley Figure Skating Club, adult programs, Sun Valley Youth Hockey and the Sun Valley Suns semi-pro hockey club.
Then there are those who perform in the Sun Valley on Ice shows, which can hold 1,700 spectators, including 400 people on the terrace.
“The rink went from glorious to more glorious,” said ice comedian Jason Graetz.
“It’s perfectly flat—just beautiful surface,” added coach Stephanee Grosscup. “It’s an amazing state-of-the-art system. And it ensures that this is going to be here for another 70 years.” ï
The ice at Sun Valley rink is kept at 20 degrees for hockey players and 22 degrees for figure skaters. Speed skaters like the ice colder yet. Rink workers will often set the temperature for 22 degrees during the day when figure skaters are using it, then turn it down in the afternoon in time for the hockey players.
The outdoor rink ice temperature is affected by the humidity, breezes and sunlight.
“We’re still learning on a daily basis how we have to run our new machines to make it work,” said Irvine. “During the summer we had a constant temperature between 80 and 84 degrees every day. Then the daily high dropped to 74 degrees so we had to adjust. But that’s what makes this job so interesting—all the different variables we have to consider to make the best ice we can. It’s an art form—half art and half science.”
Sun Valley’s Olympia resurfacer scrapes off 30 one-hundredths of an inch of ice every time it hits the rink. That equals 120 cubic feet of snow if it has a full load.
Ann Loftus can remember when it cost a dollar to see the ice shows in the 1960s. “It was always a good show with the top names in ice skating,” said Loftus.
Those who have performed in Sun Valley on Ice include Olympians Scotty Hamilton, Katarina Witt, Brian Boitano, Elvis Stokjo, Sasha Cohen, Steven Cousins, backflip artist Surya Bonaly and 2022 Olympic gold medalist Nathan Chen, who has been skating at Sun Valley since he was a youngster.
Others who have skated Sun Valley’s famed ice include Lucille Ball and members of the Kennedy family.