Derek Ehinger saw his opportunity while waiting to pick up his daughters from a piano lesson.
It was on the winding stretches of Atascadero’s Highway 41 toward Morro Bay that the local electrician caught a glimpse of a large church lot dotted with the power poles – enough to support his longtime dream of building a seasonal ice skating rink.
“I saw the poles and said, ‘Look, it’s three-phase power. And look at all this parking,’” Ehinger said of the discovery.
Soon, the church agreed, permitting fell into place and local donors began helping Ehinger bring Blades on Ice to Atascadero.
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“Every time I reach out for help, everyone has (said) … ‘You’re building an ice rink? No problem,’” he said with a smile.
Power is key to Ehinger’s enterprise – and one of the reasons Atascadero’s costly generator-powered seasonal rink downtown hasn’t returned.
The attraction features a 5,200-square-foot rink that can fit up to 100 people under a big white tent in the Crossroads Church parking lot at 9685 Highway 41, just west of Atascadero Lake Park. It’s slated to employ five part-time and three full-time staff.
The grand opening is planned for Dec. 15.
The last time county residents were able to ice skate during the holidays was a few years ago at a holiday rink in the Sunken Gardens in downtown Atascadero.
Ehinger has invested $35,000 in the endeavor and hopes to make $150,000 through ticket sales to cover operating costs and build seed money to bring the rink back next year.
The goal: to host seasonal ice skating each year until there are enough sponsorships and capital funds to build San Luis Obispo County’s first permanent ice rink.
Blades on Ice is slated to remain open through the end of March – first catering to the holiday crowd and then expanding to adult hockey club tournaments, figure skaters and youth skating lessons.
It’s been Ehinger’s dream to bring a permanent rink to the area since the closest operations are in San Jose, Fresno and Oxnard.
“How do you know if you have an Olympian ice skater in the family and not have a chance to test it out?” the husband and father-of-three added.
The idea finally became a possibility when Ehinger received rink equipment his friend is looking to sell. That covered much of Blades’ initial equipment overhead, he said.
The equipment includes coolant lines containing 17-degree propylene glycol, which are laid over a large ice mat that serves as the base of the rink.
Ehinger got his own electricity meter from PG&E for the operation, including its ice chillers, overhead lighting and ice mat. There’s also a full size Zamboni vehicle like professional rinks use to resurface the ice.
Ehinger hopes to have a soft opening Saturday night after downtown Atascadero’s annual Winter Wonderland event as to not compete with the local festivities. The final word on whether the rink will be ready by then will be posted on the company’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BladesOnIce93422, he said.
Ticket prices so far are $6 per session for children age 12 and younger and $8 for adults, plus skate rentals for both. For other prices and information, visit the Facebook page or www.atascaderoblades.com.
IN SAN LUIS OBISPO: The Madonna Inn will host San Luis Obispo's first ice skating rink from Dec. 21 through Jan. 6 at the Alex Madonna Expo Center. San Luis Obispo-based Hansen Holliday Productions Inc. is producing and managing the rink. A portion of the proceeds will go toward the Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Luis Obispo County youth mentoring program.