The Grande Prairie Regional Recreation Committee (GPRRC) has asked municipalities in the region to adopt a regional standardization for ice allocation and cancellation in an attempt to mitigate black ice.
The GPRRC conducted a report looking into black ice and found that “there was a significant problem in the region,” said Krista Schuett, regional recreation coordinator at GPRRC.
Black ice is where user groups have ice time allocated to them but either cancel within a time window or simply don’t show but still pay for the ice time.
The GPRRC estimates the actual cost of ice time is about $550/hour. Schuett said most users are paying about $130.
“Users are already getting a significant subsidy, if you will, for the ice, so it's important that if they're not going to use it, (that) it's available for others to use,” she said.
The problem areas are during prime ice time, being weekends and weekdays after school.
The Grande Prairie area is down two sheets of ice after the closure of the Clairmont Arena in the fall of 2019 and the fire at the Wembley Arena in 2020. This has exerted even more pressure on the demand for ice time.
GPRRC has asked Beaverlodge, Sexsmith, Wembley, the County of Grande Prairie, the City of Grande Prairie and the MD of Greenview to accept the framework for ice allocations and cancellation.
The four steps of the framework are:
Awareness: Ensure each ice user/group is aware of the strategic intentions of public investment in ice arenas and of what municipalities invest in the arenas.
Prioritizing users: Declaring which types of ice users/groups will get priority over others and allocating times based on that.
Demonstrating alignment: Ice users/groups will be required to demonstrate their conformance to the strategic intentions of public investment in the arenas by becoming approved or certified as ice arena users.
Standards of play: Parameters will be set to around the amount of time different types of users are allocated.
The GPRCC’s framework suggests that the highest priority goes to municipal or operator-sponsored events and programs like public skating, then subsequentially, events and tournaments, non-profit youth users, non-profit adult users, and lastly, for-profit users.
“I like it; I think there's going to be some unity between the different communities, and I think maybe that might make it easier for user groups,” said Clint Froehlick, the manager at the Sexsmith arena.
Although Froehlick noted that he hasn’t had a black ice issue in Sexsmith, he is aware of it in other places.
The GPRCC steps also include a formal cancellation policy to be incorporated that will create uniformity across the region.
Cancellations affect more than just the ice users, as ice facility managers are still often paying their staff during those times.
Schuett said that the GPRRC had completed research on other areas within the province that have implemented similar frameworks.
“We did comparisons across the province and I sat on a provincial arena task force for the last year, so we solicited feedback from all of the main regions within the province,” Schuett said.
In areas such as Edmonton, if ice is booked during prime hours and the users do not show up or if have less than six on the ice, they are charged double and cannot reserve the spot again, explained Schuett.
“The hope here is that all user groups get a fair chance at good ice times,” she said.
“I think it's been a long time coming to everybody to get on the same page,” said Froehlick.
County of Grande Prairie council accepted the framework's first two steps to be implemented, with county administration returning with the option to implement the next steps later.
Sexsmith town council voted to accept the framework in its entirety.
The other municipalities are expected to go forward with the framework late in the month.
Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News