Ice skating will return to SLO during the holidays

Skaters at Winter WonderSLO in 2014.
Skaters at Winter WonderSLO in 2014. Sonrisa Photography

Winter WonderSLO, the annual ice skating rink, returns to San Luis Obispo for the fourth year starting Dec. 18.

Holly Holliday of Create Promotions, which produces the event, expects 20,000 skaters will take to the ice this year during the rink’s 17-day run at the Alex Madonna Expo Center.

Attendance during the past three years has ranged from 20,000 in its first year in 2012 to about 18,000 skaters in 2013 and more than 19,000 last year.

Holliday said her company has increased the number of Facebook impressions and marketing efforts to the Central Valley, which could boost attendance. In addition, a seasonal ice skating rink in Atascadero, Blades on Ice, is not opening this season, which could drive more skaters to San Luis Obispo.

Derek Ehinger, who set up Blades on Ice in different temporary locations the past three years, is still looking for a site to put a permanent ice rink in San Luis Obispo County. He’d like to initially open a rink that could be used for ice skating, hockey and roller skating, and eventually open a full-size hockey arena with a separate roller rink.

A message on Blades on Ice’s Facebook page reads: “This is the point of no return for this season ... we could not make any deals that could make the rink possible this year in time for the holidays, so we will still be looking to make a deal for next season.”

Holliday said Winter WonderSLO is open during a very specific window — she times the event to the San Luis Coastal Unified School District’s vacation calendar — in order to make it profitable. It will cost more than $200,000 to run the 4,500-square-foot rink for 17 days, Holliday said, including the cost of the venue, the ice rink, staffing, liability insurance and other expenses. She employs a staff of about 20 people to run the rink.

Sponsors cover about 40 percent of the cost.

“Our local partners, if they didn’t come back, it would make it nearly impossible to make this happen,” Holliday said.

She declined to state net profits, adding: “It seems like I would be making so much money, but it’s just not there. We do expect to make a little bit more this year because at this point we’ve purchased a lot more of our equipment versus having to buy it every year.”

This year features themed decor inspired by the movie “Babes in Toyland,” including activities and photo opportunities with popular children’s characters. The rink runs from Dec. 18 through Jan. 3, including holidays, with hourly sessions from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Season passes are already sold out, but individual session tickets will be available for purchase online starting at 9 a.m. Friday . The cost, including skate rental, is $9 for ages 12 and under and $13 for ages 13 and up. Tickets will also be sold at the door, but skaters are encouraged to reserve tickets online in advance.

“As long as my community partners are excited about the rink, we’re going to keep doing it,” Holliday said. “The community has grown to love it.”

Cynthia Lambert: 805-781-7929, @ClambertSLO