A warm January is prompting some Minnesotans to hang up their skates and sticks and pick up their golf clubs.
Many cities, including Minneapolis, Coon Rapids, St. Paul, Golden Valley, Mankato, Maple Grove and St. Cloud, have closed their unrefrigerated outdoor ice rinks because of warm weather. Most are closed because of standing water on the surface and unsafe conditions.
Despite the closures, the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, scheduled to run Jan. 26-29 on Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis, are expected to go on as planned. A separate event, the North American Pond Hockey Tournament, had to be moved off Lake Minnetonka this weekend.
“It doesn’t matter what the temperature is up until Thursday,” said James Dahline, a spokesman for the tournament. “It only takes a few hours below 30 [degrees Fahrenheit] for us to get back to normal.”
Fresh water freezes at 32 degrees, and the forecast low for Wednesday night is 27. The forecast high for Thursday is near 33, according to the National Weather Service.
Rather than a misfortune, the warm weather has been a boon to the championships, Dahline said. “Our rinks are up earlier than they ever have been,” he said. Event coordinators saved time by not having to move snow.
“Lake ice is thicker than our ice,” Ryan Gunderson, Coon Rapids’ recreation coordinator, said about the city’s land-based rinks. “If any ground surface is exposed, it heats up and melts the ice.”
Gunderson explained that Coon Rapids’ rinks have either black pavement or grass beneath them. If anything — even a leaf, which absorbs sunlight — melts a hole in the ice during the warmer period, the sun warms the exposed dark pavement or grass and the ice melts faster. Because of this, land-based outdoor rinks can melt away entirely during the warm period.
“We’ll just have to wait out the warm spot,” Dahline said.
Some are waiting out the warmth by golfing. Bunker Hills Golf Club in Coon Rapids opened its driving range Thursday to allow golfers a rare opportunity to practice their swing during the thaw. The course will be open for “as many days as it can be this week,” according to a news release. Similarly, a golf course in Battle Creek, Michigan, also opened its doors Thursday.
Refrigerated rinks, including locations in Coon Rapids and Roseville, are still open. Skaters should check with their city’s parks and recreation department for information about specific rinks.
Gabriel Sanchez is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.