Atascadero ice-rink operator wants to create permanent facility

Using a repurposed walker for stability, Casey Jones, 8, chases Andie Elmerick, 7, during an afternoon of skating March 7, 2013, at the Blades On Ice skating rink in Atascadero.
Using a repurposed walker for stability, Casey Jones, 8, chases Andie Elmerick, 7, during an afternoon of skating March 7, 2013, at the Blades On Ice skating rink in Atascadero. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Fifteen-year-old Andrew Monson cut across the ice, his skates sliding over the slick surface with poise during his sharp turns and sprints to reach the hockey puck.

“He’s barely been on the ice before this (opened), if ever,” Atascadero resident and 17-year-old rink manager Josh Ferguson said, impressed as he watched Andrew on a recent afternoon. “Now he’s a regular. Every time we have a lesson.”

Andrew is just one of the many local youths who are taking advantage of Blades on Ice, San Luis Obispo County’s only ice rink at the moment (in contrast to holiday rinks that come and go). It’s been at the parking lot of Crossroads Church in Atascadero since Dec. 15.

In February, the rink averaged 200 skaters a week, plus dozens more for lessons.

What started as a seasonal attraction, the result of one local man’s dream to bring more attractions to kids, is slated to remain open for a few more weeks — but that could change.

Rink proprietor Derek Ehinger, an Atascadero father of three, will bring plans before the Atascadero City Council on Tuesday to establish a permanent rink in town — a first for the county.

“We’re trying to get everyone thinking about ice hockey so people around here can start thinking about it on a sports level,” Ehinger said.

His plans call for moving into an existing building by Nov. 1 “to have some youth leagues ready for next season,” he added. He said he has some locations in mind but declined to reveal them before he makes his pitch to the city.

Concepts call for an 8,000-square-foot rink, about half the size of traditional rinks, that will be made of ice when the weather is cool and then convert to a roller rink in the warmer months.

Ehinger has invested $35,000 in the temporary rink and hopes to make $150,000 through ticket sales to cover operating costs and build seed money.

He’s made about half that in ticket sales so far, he said, and is having a business plan drawn up and seeking an investor for his permanent indoor rink plan.

It could cost approximately $250,000 to get a permanent indoor rink up and running, depending on the rental space, Ehinger said.

He’s also going to ask the council to extend his permit by one week so he can cater to children on spring break through early April.

“When kids are out of school, those are our best days,” he said. “Families have recognized this is a good place to spend some time away from the iPods.”

Blades on Ice first catered to the holiday crowd and then expanded to a weekly schedule of community skating, ice hockey, figure skating, lessons and adult hockey club tournaments.

Atascadero resident Christine Elmerick visited the rink on a recent afternoon with her kids and a friend to get in some after-school skating.

Her son, Ethan, and daughter, Andie, ages 9 and 7, played on the ice for at least an hour, laughing with their friend Casey Jones, 8.

“I want to say it’s so fun, but then people would come here!” Ethan exclaimed, his cheeks rosy from the cold. He likes having the rink as a special place for him and his friends, his mother said.

Hockey coach Dana Esparza, who has coached roller hockey locally for 15 years, said the ability to play ice hockey on the Central Coast is fantastic because the closest operations are in San Jose, Fresno and Oxnard.

“We sit and chuckle, ‘Can you believe we’re playing ice hockey in Atascadero?’ ” Esparza said of the growing hockey crowd.

He spends four to five days a week at the ice rink, sometimes more.

Thirty-six players competed in an ice hockey tournament last month, 24 of whom were local.