Legendary Ice Castle rink to close its doorsRink operations will move to sister facility Desert Ice Castle
"This was one magical place that all these amazing international skaters would come to. It was pretty spectacular," said coach/choreographer Karen Kwan Oppegard, who with sister Michelle Kwan spent years training at the Ice Castle International Training Center in Lake Arrowhead, Calif.
"It was a lot of hard training, but it almost didn't feel like that," she added. "We had so much fun. It was incredible. It was like the golden era of skating."
That era will end Friday. According to a notice posted by the rink's owner, seven-time Australian champion Anthony Liu, a reduced schedule will be in place Aug. 26-30, and the rink will close for business as of Aug. 31.
Icenetwork reached out to Liu for comment and received an email response.
"Ice Castle is consolidating operations and moving its Lake Arrowhead operations to its sister rink, Desert Ice Castle, in Cathedral City, Calif. ... Coaching transfers and/or additions as required will be made at the Cathedral City facility to accommodate the needs of trainees making the transition. The move will be effective Saturday, August 31, 2013, and will be made as seamlessly as possible to continue the great Ice Castle tradition."
Cathedral City is approximately 82 miles from Lake Arrowhead, a considerable distance for coaches, skaters and their families who live in proximity to the rink.
Carol Probst and her late husband, Walter (who died in 1994), founded Ice Castle in 1983 after building a home on Lake Arrowhead. Probst skated with Ice Follies from 1952-62 and had a lifelong love of the sport. The first rink they built was the Blue Jay Ice Castle, which looked out onto a picturesque wooded area and was where many star-studded skating galas took place.
"The summers were so full," Probst recalled. "We got to the point where we needed another rink."
They found a 12-acre camp property for sale that had 22 cabins, a dormitory and a house, which they purchased. Carol's daughter, Cindy Lang, became director of marketing and public relations, and daughter Terri was director of food services and nutrition.
They renovated the buildings, built a rink and dance pavilion, and created the world-class facility that opened in 1988, attracting coaches and skaters from around the world. Among them were world pairs champions Radka Kovaříková and René Novotný, world medalist Surya Bonaly, world champion and two-time Olympic medalist Lu Chen, Italian champion Silvia Fontana and U.S. pairs skaters Stephanie Stiegler and John Zimmerman.
When U.S. junior men's champion Jere Michael came to Ice Castle in 1996 to train with Frank Carroll, he was struck by how well Carroll and fellow coach Carlo Fassi got along, as well as how even-keeled Kwan was in her daily training.
"It helped me with my emotions," said Michael, now a coach in Southern California. "It was about hard work, but it was also such a family atmosphere. Mrs. P (Probst) was always so thoughtful and such a joy to be around. It was such an honor to be a part of her training center. It really affected me in a positive way."
Probst recalled one July 4 when they rented a boat to take the skaters out on the lake to watch fireworks. Some of the Americans sang the national anthem, and Walter asked some of the skaters from other countries to share their anthems.
"There were 25 different countries," Probst said. "One of them started singing. Then the next one and the next. It went on. We were crying. We were so unbelievably taken by this."
It's memories like this that Kwan Oppegard treasures. She said a huge influence was living side by side with skaters from around the world and seeing them away from the rink.
"This was a place where you could see what their normal lives were like: what they looked like in street clothes, what they ate, what books they read," she said. "It was really a unique environment."
On Feb. 14, 2001, the roof caved in at the Blue Jay facility after a series of heavy snowstorms; it never reopened. In 2003, Probst sold the camp facility to a buyer and then sold the Ice Castle rink to Liu. He has run it ever since, and it has continued to attract top coaches, such as Rafael Arutunian and Andrei Bushkov, and skaters such as Jeffrey Buttle, Mao Asada, Adam Rippon and Ashley Wagner.
Probst said it will be the first time in nearly 100 years there hasn't been a rink in the area. Regardless of what happens, she will always have her memories of when Carroll first asked her to take a look at Kwan.
"She was a scraggly little kid with skinny legs, but she could jump like a deer," Probst said. "You could tell that she had 'it.'"