Two legendary ice dancers took a spin around an outdoor community ice rink in Two Rivers this week. It wasn’t the Olympics, but it was an Alaska evening they’re not likely to forget.
The ice dancing champions were Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, of Great Britain, who became the highest scoring figure skaters of all time, for a single program, at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. Judges awarded them 12 perfect 6.0s and six 5.9s after their ice dancing performance to Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero.” That included perfect scores for artistic impression from every judge. Their performance was one of the most-watched TV events ever in the United Kingdom. Twenty-four million British viewers tuned in. Their performance is referred to now as legendary.
The Olympic gold medal champions were in Fairbanks this week, filming a British TV documentary about the interactions of humans and ice. They didn’t do any ice dancing, but they skated with community members and dodged a swarm of young hockey players zooming around them, pushing a flashing hockey puck.
“They’re still very popular in Britain,” said director Emma Frank, who organized a camera crew using a mobile TV screen the size of an iPad. The cameras were on the other side of the rink, but her screen showed what the cameras were seeing.
While researching local Interior ice rinks, the production company came across the annual backyard ice contest sponsored by Fairbanks Hockey Week. Organizer Randy Zarnke got the call, looking for an outdoor rink for the ice dancers, and he immediately recommended the community rink at Two Rivers.
“Have I got the perfect spot for you,” he told them. It won last year, he said, because of the setting, the quality of the rink and the enthusiasm of everyone who uses it.
The rink is located on a pond right between Two Rivers Lodge at Mile 16 Chena Hot Springs Road and the highway. The Bristor family and friends and community members maintain it, carrying on the tradition started by Dave Nabor and Sean White. It remains a popular community gathering spot.
The rink is an estimated 145 feet by 45 feet, a little over half the size of a regulation ice rink. The goalie nets are handmade out of spruce branches. Community members made benches out of local spruce trees. Two Rivers Lodge provides plug-ins for the holiday lights that line the rink.
When the Bristors got the word the rink needed to be ready for this special visit, they worked hard to make that happen.
“After that first snowfall, we had a little over about 10 inches of snow,” Maria Bristor said. “That weighed down the pond, and it had overflow on it, so all that fresh snow turned into nothing but slush. We had to let that freeze and then reflood it. We drill a hole in the ice and get a two-inch pump and flood it. We try to make the edges so the water will stay where we want it.”
It wasn’t easy. They flooded and flooded and flooded the rink until it was what she called “somewhat skateable.”
On Saturday, they set up vertical poles (tall spruce trees) around the rink and Sunday morning, they hung the ever-present holiday lights.
When the Olympic visitors arrived Monday night, they encountered a truly authentic Alaska scene. A big bonfire blazed next to the rink, and a couple wood benches invited visitors to warm up next to the fire. A pile of firewood sat nearby to keep the bonfire stoked. Temperatures were frigid.
Throughout the next couple hours, community members arrived via snowmachines. The dress was typical Alaska — fur hats, warm parkas, insulated coveralls and bunny boots. An extra bag of ice skates was available for visitors wanting to give skating a try.
“I enjoy it down there so much,” Bristor said. “It’s our own little getaway that is close by.”
She said she enjoyed meeting Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean.
“I thought they were very nice people,” she said. “They were very humble people and very appreciative.”
The couple chatted with Bristor around the bonfire and visited with community skaters on the ice. The camera crew were wonderful people too, she added.
Maria Bristor’s daughter Mackenzie was one of the few skaters on the rink wearing figure skates instead of hockey skates. The champion couple was drawn to her.
“They asked if I was in figure skating school and I said no, I was self-taught and sometimes my Aunt Emily helped me going backwards,” Mackenzie said. “They asked if I was good at spinning and asked me to demonstrate and I did.”
They applauded her.
“Keep skating,” Dean told her.
Then he turned to the cameras and announced, “It’s a whole lot of fun.” Then he scrunched up his shoulders as if warding off a chill and added, “And a whole lot of cold.”
The British entourage also visited the Aurora Ice Museum at Chena Hot Springs, met with ice researchers on a local lake and enjoyed a dog sled ride with Ryne Olson in Two Rivers. They head to south central Alaska next and plan to visit some glaciers firsthand.
Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at email@example.com. Call her at the office 459-7546. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.