It’s time for a weather-related heart-to-heart. This winter has sucked, and there’s really no other way to put it. Yes, I’m an out-of-state student at the University of Minnesota, but after three winters here, I thought I had conquered what locals call “balmy” conditions. But this winter has been just like my high school love interest dumping me on the night of the winter dance: heartbreaking, bone-chilling, unforgiving and just downright mean.
I’m originally from Colorado, so I do know what cold feels like. Growing up, I knew how to conquer the cold in certain situations, usually through using outdoor winter facilities. Skiing and outdoor skating are naturally big activities in the mountainous state, but they are only an option when we make investments in infrastructure.
When I came up to the Gopher State and made it through winter, I was disappointed to discover the lack of outdoor winter activities around campus. Even though I did no research into the topic before attending college, I assumed that the University would host some type of outdoor winter activities due to its seemingly wintry location.
On the other hand, Minneapolis and St. Paul both do a great job of programming outdoor activities during the darkest months.
Minneapolis’ vast park system sets up dozens of hockey rinks after the winter freeze comes in, and many popular summer trails are converted to a cross-country skiing paradise. According to the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board, there are dozens of different ice rinks set up in the winter around the city, for uses ranging from broomball to pond hockey. Minneapolis also sets up 20 miles of cross-country ski trails in five locations in the city’s southern and southwestern side.
On the other side of the Mississippi River, St. Paul stakes claim to different types of winter activities. The Winter Carnival, branded as the “coolest celebration on Earth,” is an annual gala in downtown St. Paul that hosts ice sculptures, skating rinks and the occasional ice castle. The city has also recently been an annual host to the fan-favorite Red Bull Crashed Ice event, a downhill ice cross competition. With these great winter assets at its doorstep, it’s much easier to forgive the University’s lack of winter amenities.
However, I can’t help but point out our campus’s blandness in the cold months. With its swaths of open space and its location near the Mississippi River, the University is perfectly situated to have winter programming, and there is likely high demand from the nearby student population. The University should aspire to add winter-related infrastructure on and around campus.
Northrop Mall ice rink
I think the best location to host an ice rink, both visually and functionally, would be on the Northrop Mall. In its current form, the Mall is a barren, white wasteland. An ice rink would bring life to the otherwise blank space and turn it into the campus activity center it usually becomes in the spring. The rink could be situated in a north-south orientation between the sidewalks in front of Walter Library and the Tate Laboratory of Physics. The University could place a small, temporary warming facility to the south of the rink, facing the Scholars Walk, which could provide rental skates for students. The rink could host open skate time, as well as intramural hockey and broomball leagues.
The rink would come with challenges. Setting up and taking down the rink, as well as the warming facility, would probably be a time-consuming process. However, if cost-beneficial, a Northrop rink would bring together a student body that has turned away from the cold.
Gopher Ice Garden
To appease avid campus artists, the University could commission work from student ice craftsmen and create grounds for its own ice sculpture collective. The University could host a Gopher Ice Garden, although not as grand as the St. Paul version, outside the McNamara Alumni Center. It would grab the attention of students and traveling sports-goers checking out a Minnesota basketball or hockey game. The Gopher Ice Garden could also become a marketing pull for Stadium Village businesses and would turn the lackluster plaza into a lively frozen palace.
River Road skiing
Currently, the large river banks underneath the Washington Avenue Bridge are nothing but a lifeless snow mound. Although this land is not University property, the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board could agree to create some trails in the area. The River Road Cross-Country Ski Area, as we could call it, would add a desirable amenity to a section of the city that currently lacks anything ski-related. Students and residents of the nearby Cedar-Riverside and Whittier neighborhoods would be able to cruise around the space in the wintertime, which would enhance an otherwise desolate public snow lawn.
As Old Man Winter finally eases on his frigid gas pedal, I certainly am looking forward to long-missed summer activities. However, University officials can start planning ahead for next year’s winter to transform campus from a barren winter wasteland to a winter activity hub.