Creek Residents, Merchants and Casino Operators Give Thumbs-Up to Ice Castles

Local Leaders Hoping for Return Visit; Final Decision Still Pending

Rick Langenberg

The Cripple Creek community loves Ice Castles and wants the iconic winter attraction to come back next winter and for an extended, several-year period.

And for any problems that developed during the debut year, residents and local officials view these as minor hiccups. In fact, the local door is wide open for Ice Castles to return.

This was the overwhelming sentiment of a town hall meeting last week, held at the Butte Theater, as a crowd of local residents, almost by a unanimous tally, gave the thumbs-up to the attraction. The special city council meeting was organized to generate feedback from the community and to discuss impacts and suggestions for improvements.

Earlier Ice Castles’ meetings were held with impacted residents and area law enforcement and public works agencies.

“It really benefitted everyone,” said City Administrator Frank Salvato, in presenting an overview of the event, which ran from the end of December until March 9.

“I was absolutely pleased with how this turned out,” said Mayor Annie Durham, who cited the impacts as quite minor. “It wasn’t a huge burden (for local agencies and outside entities).” If anything, the mayor cited the lack of food vendors as probably the biggest challenge in the event’s first year in Cripple Creek.

“It was a very good festival,” said veteran business owner Edie Smith, who will soon kick off her 17th year in running the Creations Everlasting shop. “The people were nice. I pray they bring it back.”  “We did pretty good for a small town that didn’t know what to expect,” said a local resident in describing the Ice Castles venture in Cripple Creek. “I feel it was a fantastic addition to the town,” added a local casino employee.

These comments characterized the positive tone of the forum, with hardly any participants expressing problems or views against Ice Castles.

The only real concerns voiced dealt with ways to expand the attraction more for locals and to offer more family-activities to complement Ice Castles. Some minor issues were cited due to the fact that kids are not allowed in local casinos, a situation that often created some challenges for families frequenting the Ice Castles attraction.

But actually, a few casino employees who attended the forum, actually commented that Ice Castles provided a boon to their operations. Ice Castles patrons frequented local casinos, as the industry’s adjusted gross proceeds and betting volume numbers increased during this period. Plus, casino operators noticed more customers during the Ice Castles debut.

A Big Winner

From a statistical standpoint, Ice Castles was a big winner for the city and region. City Administrator Frank Salvato reported that 135,000 tickets were sold during the event’s two-plus month stay, a total that far exceeded the earlier goals of Ice Castles. The company had hoped to generate 70,000 to 80,000 patrons.   Although no specific dollar amounts were made public, the city’s investment into footing a portion of the attraction’s water bill, definitely got returned with the extra sales tax dollars generated.

The event, though, definitely posed a challenge utility-wise, as Ice Castles representatives estimated that they used about 10 million gallons of water. The Ice Castles attraction is currently undergoing the melt-down phase, a process that is proceeding quite well, according to Ice Castles officials and city leaders. “The runoff has done what we expected,” said Keith Heintzelman, of the Ice Castle company. In fact, he stated that the ice is meting much faster in Cripple Creek than it has in other locations, or when the company operated in Dillon.

As for other impacts, the event generated a huge hike in traffic during peak times, with comparisons made to the traffic to and from Cripple Creek during summer and fall festivals.  But residents and business operators didn’t see this as posing any problems. “I didn’t think the traffic was that bad,” said David Minter, owner of the Johnny Nolon’s and Colorado Grande casinos. “I didn’t think it was an issue at all.”

A 50 percent increase in accidents was recorded in the area, based on statistics from the Colorado State Patrol. But city leaders stressed that it could not be concluded that this increase came necessarily from Ice Castles. The winter of 2024 was brutal for the Ute Pass region, with a variety of mega snow storms pounding southern Teller.  In addition, the area experienced more traffic from the opening of the Chamonix casino and hotel.

Mayor Pro Tem and long-time resident Bruce Brown noted that some Ice Castles patrons didn’t have the proper vehicles for winter travel to Cripple Creek, a factor that caused some problems.  In fact, Durham noted that one of the big retail winners was an outdoor vendor in Woodland Park, as many Ice Castles’ customers found themselves buying additional winter clothes at the 11th hour to prepare for their visit to the attraction.

Still, officials say the impacts were extremely minimal and didn’t come close to clashing with the huge benefits.

Future of Ice Castles in Cripple Creek?

Even with a volley of pro-Ice Castles’ comments, the big question was not answered at last week’s forum. Will the attraction be returning to Cripple Creek?

The Ice Castles’ representatives have expressed much praise about their 2023/2024 stint in Cripple Creek, saying it exceeded their expectations.

But that said, they were quite mum at last week’s forum about commenting about the future prospects of another return run in Cripple Creek. Heintzelman cautioned that this is a company-wide decision and many factors come into play. The Utah-based company operates winter sites in a variety of locations, with Cripple Creek serving in 2024 as their Colorado anchor location.

He doesn’t expect Ice Castles to  make a final announcement for possibly two months.

“I really hope they come back,” said the mayor. “Let’s keep out fingers crossed.”

City officials are even hoping for more of an extended deal.

“We hope to know sooner than later,” stated Councilman Cody Schwab. He contends that if the city gets a heads-up about a return year, it can make better plans to help coordinate more kid activities to complement Ice Castles, such as maybe hosting a sledding hill, or organizing more food options.

The big complaint for the 2024 run centered on the lack of local food vendor operators. But this situation could work itself out naturally, if Ice Castles returns, with the addition of new eateries and bars in Cripple Creek, such as the District Kitchen and Saloon and the expanding options at the Chamonix.