For those willing to brave the darkness and the cold, elsewhere in this issue you can find an article about the local trails that are maintained and lit during the winter months. If, however, you’d prefer to take shelter during the cold season but are still keen to do some strolling, Fairbanks has a solution: The Big Dipper Ice Arena.
Located at 920 Lathrop St., the Big Dipper is an all-purpose arena that’s open year-round. Its main attraction is an 85 by100 foot indoor ice rink, which boasts seating for 2,200. While primarily known as a hockey rink — it’s home to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, a Junior ‘A’ hockey team in the North American Hockey League — the Big Dipper also houses an indoor walking/jogging track.
Bryant Wright, the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s trails coordinator, said it’s one of the very few options in town for people who want to get some miles in, but don’t fancy walking in cold temperatures.
“It’s pretty nice because there’s a big loop and typically there’s either hockey practice or free-skating or figure skating, so it’s pretty fun to have something to watch while you’re walking,” he said.
According to Lorri Arthur, facilities supervisor at the Big Dipper, the track is typically open to walkers and joggers from 6 a.m. -6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 11 a.m. -4 p.m. Sundays.
“It just happens to be an extra byproduct of having the rink down below,” Arthur said. “We don’t charge for it either.”
There is also a Walking Club for seniors, which takes place 9 a.m. -10 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Arthur said. In addition, the Big Dipper has seniors who walk every day.
“As it gets colder, more and more people come inside, and we have over 200 people that walk here a day,” she said.
To walk one mile, you have to make it around the circumference of the rink seven and a half times. Arthur noted that, while it’s a rubberized tile floor, it’s sensible to wear shoes that are good for walking. She also pointed out that the Big Dipper has public lockers; if you bring your own lock, you can store your valuables for free while you walk.
“It’s great,” she said. “There’s a lot of regular people who come through. We used to charge people 15 years ago, but one mayor made it free and it’s been that way ever since. It’s been really well received.”
Arthur also asks walkers to sign in using a clipboard in front of the skateroom. She explained that it helps the Big Dipper to keep track of the number of users, so that the borough — which owns the facility — knows that it’s getting used. Her other piece of advice is to keep an eye on any activity that’s going on in the rink, for safety reasons.
“I would love to say that we keep all the pucks in the rink, but, you know, sometimes they come out,” she said. “It is a hockey rink first and foremost.”
The walking/jogging track open times may be subject to change, due to hockey games or other events. As such, those looking to check it out should either look at the Fairbanks North Star Borough website or call the facility to get the most up-to-date schedule.
“I try to post well in advance so the walkers know in advance,” Arthur said. “Once we get into January, February, and March we have big tournaments.”
You can see a full schedule for all activities at the Big Dipper here: bit.ly/2MxFx5c . Call a staff member at the Big Dipper’s skate room at 907-459-1104.
Contact staff writer Alistair Gardiner at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.