Tony Vagneur: Skating through the history of skating in Aspen |

Tony Vagneur: Skating through the history of skating in Aspen

The other day, a photo appeared on the cover of The Aspen Times showing a young girl skating on synthetic ice in front of CP Burger. Synthetic ice isn’t new, having an origination sometime in the 1960s, but maybe it is to Aspen.

Aspen only has four ski areas, but over the years, Aspen has had innumerable ice-skating rinks. Hallam Lake would be the most obvious, just over the hill from town and familiar to most Aspenites of the late 1800s. It doesn’t appear that anyone drowned from falling through the ice, but several, including a couple of young women of the day, managed to crack through the ice and were immediately rescued by friends and onlookers. Early on, the Hallam Lake Ice Co. and skaters had to share the lake, which resulted in several mishaps of young lads skating into the icy depths. This led to the eventual banning of skating on the lake while the ice company was harvesting much-needed ice for the many ice boxes around town.

A couple of 1890s entrepreneurs, Coady and Trout, built an ice rink on Hopkins Avenue, between Center (now Garmisch) and Aspen streets, bringing down the ire of neighboring citizens. This was an enclosed rink of sorts that just couldn’t seem to get it right and, by 1897 after several legal battles, a crew of neighbors, with blessings from the owners, dismantled the ice-skating pavilion.

Stillwater, that slow-moving strip of Roaring Fork River that winds through meadows east of Aspen, also was a popular skating spot. In 1905, a newspaper reported that 75 people enjoyed a Sunday skate on Stillwater, while an additional 200 or so were doing the same thing on Hallam Lake.

Let’s face it, skiing wasn’t what it became after 1946 with the installation of lifts 1 and 2 on Aspen Mountain, so ice skating was the go-to winter activity for many of the town’s residents. A rink was put up here, or there, or yes, one in Wagner Park. Aspen’s erstwhile purveyor of fine drinks and otherwise entertaining person, Hannibal Brown, was one of the operators of this short-lived, but fine rink (1940).

Not to get tedious with this, but in 1891 there was a rink at the corner of Main and Aspen streets; there was the Tivoli Rink in the 1890s, location unknown; the Hotel Jerome had a lighted ice rink in 1946; Toklat, in addition to dog sled rides, initiated a rink in 1952, complete with lights; and don’t forget the one at the Hunter Creek Ice House in 1918 and 1919. The Whip Jones riding stable provided a winter rink on its outdoor riding arena. Don’t forget the one at Buttermilk, 1961, including lights, for skating and skiing.

One of my favorites is the rink across Galena Street from City Hall, where the Thrift Shop and firehouse are now located. This operation, under the tutelage of the Winter Sports Club, was a dues-paying rink that charged $1 per month for men, $0.50 for ladies. This is a favorite because my grandmother, Grace Prindle Vagneur, reporter to The Aspen Times, photographed the rink in 1916, its first year of operation.

Rinks came and went and ice skating remained popular in Aspen. Perhaps the most memorable of those rinks, at least to those of the 20th century, was the one built on the grounds of the old Lincoln School (1949). This is where the Yellow Brick school now sits. Guys like Clarence Quam, Frank and Mike Garrish, Jimmy Snyder, Ken Broughton and Bill Stapleton put the operation together.

It had a warming hut with a big pot-bellied stove in the middle; around 200 pairs of various-sized skates (for use, rent-free) lined the walls, and music wafted over loud speakers provided by Laurence Elisha of the Hotel Jerome. On Saturday nights, hot chocolate and cookies were served, free of charge. It was a true labor of love.

The Aspen Skating Center opened across from the base of Little Nell in 1956. It provided summer skating in 1957, was out of business by 1958. After the Lincoln School grounds rink closed due to construction of the Yellow Brick school, another volunteer group took over this Skating Center spot across from Little Nell in 1960, providing quality skating to those who wished.

Ruthie Brown, namesake of Ruthie’s Run and wife of D.R.C Brown, built the Brown Ice Palace (on the previously mentioned Whip Jones property), a heralded contribution to the town that provided a stable skating environment for generations of Aspenites. That’s where, in 1963, I challenged Lefty Brinkman, renowned figure skater and hockey player, to an Olympic-distance speed-skating contest, the play-by-play of which has been written about in a previous column.

Today, if you have the urge to ice skate, go to the Aspen Ice Garden (formerly the Brown Ice Palace), or the Lewis Ice Arena, located in the Aspen Recreation Center. Synthetically, try the one by CP Burger. Or, as happened a couple of weeks ago, skate Maroon Lake.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at

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