Ice Chalet Provides Skating Outpost For Community

Mitchell Smith

Photo by Marra Clay

Some kids sit, others cling to a white wall with a yellow stripe lining the bottom and the rest glide gleefully across the ice. This is the scene at the YWCA Ice Chalet on a typical Thursday night.

The Ice Chalet, established in 1965, is the only ice rink within a 40-mile radius in Walla Walla, and it serves the needs of the entire ice-skating community in the city, offering skating sessions, a hockey school and figure skating lessons.

Even Ice Chalet Manager Jodi Alden started skating there when she began going to the rink in 1966, just a year after it was built. She worked at the rink from 1982 to 1986 before moving to New York. In 1999, Alden and her husband moved back to Walla Walla and have been managing the rink since 2000. While the management of the rink has changed quite a bit during the rink’s 48 years of existence, there are some parts that have not changed at all.

“This is the tile that was on the floor when I started skating here, and this rubber is the original rubber,” said Alden, referring to the tile and rubber in the entryway to the rink.

Make no mistake, though; the rink is kept up well. White “dasher board” lines the ice just like every other rink in the country. Instead, these older items, which Alden called “vintage,” serve as reminders of the past, something that is surprisingly important to the continued success of the rink.

Photo by Marra Clay

Walla Walla resident Chris Young also skated at the Ice Chalet growing up, beginning hockey practices at the age of five. This year, his son turned five, and Young figured it would be a good time for him to start playing. Without this kind of continued support from the community, it would be difficult to keep the rink running. Young still uses the rink, participating in a coed adult hockey league run through the rink.

“It’s a good team sport,” said Young of hockey. “It teaches kids how to work as a team together and builds relationships with these other kids that last.”

“Once they fall in love with it, then they’re hooked. You just have to get them to try it,” said Alden.

Another reason for the rink’s continued success is the community feel. Alden said that she knows most people that come in through the door. On that Thursday, she said goodbye to each person individually as they left the facility.

“It gives us a little different feel than some of those other, bigger rinks,” said Alden.

This community feel is what keeps 12-year-old Danisha Jackson coming to the rink every weekend.

“I like to come here and get things off my mind, and skating does help me. It’s just a hangout spot for people to come and play,” she said.

Photo by Marra Clay

Despite its enthusiastic local following, the Ice Chalet does feel the stress of operating an ice rink in a place like Walla Walla where ice sports in general are less popular. The YWCA owns the rink and provides the rink with a website and Facebook page, but Alden and the others in charge of management work hard to ensure that they can stay as self-sufficient as possible.

“I’m sure it’s a struggle to keep it open,” said Young. “There aren’t a lot of kids that come down and want to play hockey … It’s not very common.”

This is what makes the YWCA ownership so vital. The rink is a YWCA program, so it enjoys every benefit that other YWCA programs do. They also share the same mission of providing equal, healthy and safe activities to kids and families.

“We are attached at the hip,” said Alden.

As long as the rink continues to draw in old and new patrons, the future looks very promising. After being such a strong part of the community for many years already, it seems to have had a great effect on the people of Walla Walla.

“We’re trying to make [ice-skating] a big deal,” said Alden.