In the early 1900s, ice skating enthusiasts in Queenstown got their fix by skating on the Queenstown Gardens’ pond when the ice was thick enough. It took until 1966 for the resort’s first artificial outdoor rink to be built on the current site, paving the way for the current facility after an investment of more than $4 million.
“The new rink was built at huge expense in 1995 by the previous ownership group and I don’t think the town would have an ice-skating facility had this investment not been made back then,” says Queenstown Ice Arena co-owner Daniel Graham. “We feel that the town owes the previous owners a debt of gratitude for their foresight in constructing the rink almost 25 years ago.”
Daniel and his brother Ted Graham often visited the ice rink in the early 2000s and Ted briefly worked there while on a break from law school. Both ice hockey enthusiasts, they often joked about taking over and running the rink.
In 2009 they got their opportunity.
“I was working as a Forex broker in London, but my wife Lenka and I wanted to leave the hectic pace behind and start a family. The ice rink was up for sale and Ted and I saw an opportunity – we agreed to work at the rink for a year and in 2010 we bought the business formally,” recalls Daniel.
“Growing up playing street hockey at a local rink, those were the best times for me – an unforgettable part of my youth. I wanted the kids here to have the same experience and develop a connection to a special place.”
Over the past decade, the brothers and their team have invested in the community and the future of ice skating in Queenstown. They have made many improvements to the ice arena, adding professional barriers and improving the ice quality.
The ice arena has dedicated programmes with 600 students from seven different primary schools learning ice skating, ice hockey and even speed skating at the rink. There are 30 people on the figure skating programme and Daniel says there has been a 300% growth in the number of registered hockey players.
The ice arena is also home to five-time national ice hockey champion, Skycity Stampede, which attracts international talent. In 2018, the rink hosted a top-level professional Canada versus USA ice hockey game, to a sell-out crowd of 650, reinforcing the arena’s reputation as a leading venue for the sport.
Heading into their tenth season, the Grahams have committed to further investments and opening for a longer skating season and have hired a full-time manager, Kellye Nelson, to help drive the growth.
“It’s amazing how many North Americans we get through our doors who are just infatuated
with a rink being on this side of the world,” says Kellye. “Along with others, we get locals who were active at the rink in their youth, who are now bringing their children in to learn to skate. These people are thrilled with the improvements and happy they can continue a tradition on the ice.”