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6 sports to try at the Utah Olympic Oval — and you need not be an Olympian to play

Beginners and veterans find fun and exercise at the Kearns facility, famous for having the “fastest ice on Earth.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Youth hockey teams practice on the ice at the Utah Olympic Oval, Nov. 16, 2021. Hockey is just one of many sports to discover at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns.

Kearns • The Utah Olympic Oval has been in Phillip Canick’s life since 2012.

He has played hockey in two of the oval’s leagues and now his 6-year-old son, Cooper, is in its Learn to Skate program.

The two make the trip from Cottonwood Heights to Kearns three times a week, all year-round.

“The ice is always great. The facilities, for being as old as they are, you wouldn’t know it,” he said. “It’s just a great place to be.”

What keeps Canick going back to the venue, however, is the community it creates. “A lot of good lifetime friends I’ve gained from playing out here.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Learn to Skate instructor Cassie Gutierrez teaches a class of youths how to conduct a controlled fall on the ice, Nov. 16, 2021. Figure skating is just one of many sports to discover at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns.

The Utah Olympic Oval — dubbed the “fastest ice on Earth,” at an elevation above 4,500 feet — was built for the 2002 Winter Games. Flags from across the globe hang upon the ice rinks and running track, and the five Olympic rings remain ubiquitous images around the facility.

The space continues to host world-class races and remains a meeting point for people from all over the valley to practice sports on and off the ice.

On a given day or night, the five-acre venue can be packed with people young and old running on an indoor track, figure skating on an ice rink, playing hockey on a separate ice sheet, or gliding, slipping and stumbling on the 400-meter speedskating oval.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) A youth competitive speedskater races around the track, Nov. 16, 2021. Speedskating is just one of many sports to discover at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns.

“It’s beautiful ice,” said Carolyn Krambule, who is a regular at the public skating sessions. “We work with a lot of the coaches, and they’re all fantastic.”

Krambule’s family goes at least four times a week to the ice rinks in the complex. Husband Dean plays hockey and daughter Leia is in the Learn to Skate program.

“It’s a great place to go, get something to do,” said Krambule, before being interrupted by her daughter. “Other than watching screens and playing video games.”

For some, ice sports are sheer entertainment. For others, these activities and the discipline they require have deeper meaning.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) LeeAnn Colgan gets steadied by the hand of her speedskating instructor, Olympian Derek Parra, Nov. 16, 2021. Speedskating is just one of many sports to discover at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns.

Growing up in San Bernardino, Calif., Derek Parra found meaning in staying active.

“I came from Southern California with not a lot around me to offer to a child,” Parra said, “especially to kind of get out of the bad neighborhood that I grew up in.”

When he started speedskating, doors started to open, and stardom came. He won gold and silver medals at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Parra now works as a trainer and sports director of the oval.

“We’re a beacon of the community,” he said. “I can only imagine what it would be like if I was a young child, in this community with this amazing facility in my backyard.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Learn to Skate director Amie Miyagi teaches a class of youths, Nov. 16, 2021. Figure skating is just one of many sports to discover at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns.

The Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation offers scholarships to provide access to programs for those who can’t afford them.

While the oval attracts a lot of regulars, it is open to anyone — from first-timers to veteran winter sports enthusiasts. Like the theme to the 2002 Winter Games, it welcomes the world.

Here are six fun things to do there:

Skating

From August through March, there are public skate sessions on the 400-meter oval. There are also skate lessons for various ages and abilities. Toddlers can start as soon as they turn 3.

Hockey

There are leagues for youths, men and women. The oval offers hockey skills lessons, and a learn to play hockey program recommended for children ages 4 to 12. Participants learn power skating, stick handling, passing and shooting.

Running

A 442-meter indoor track with four lanes surrounds the oval. There also is an eight-lane, 110-meter sprint zone. High schools and college athletes grace these tracks in the colder months.

Curling

Classes are available for beginners. Students use the same stones that glided on the ice in the 2002 Winter Olympics. Curling leagues are open to learners and experienced players.

Before the pandemic, the oval hosted cosmic curling sessions at night, complete with fluorescent “houses,” laser lights and a disco ball

Speedskating

Introductory classes are offered for short- and long-track speedskating. A masters camp for competitive skaters older than 30 is on pauses due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Figure skating

The oval has private figure skating lessons for all skill levels, along with freestyle sessions in which skaters can play their music and practice their routines and competitive synchronized skating teams.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) One youth hockey player is reluctantly helped to his feet by a teammate during practice after getting knocked down by a fellow teammate at the Utah Olympic Oval, Nov. 16, 2021. Hockey is just one of many sports to discover at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns.

Parra recommends curling for people who want to avoid strapping on skates

Not only is it fun at the oval, but it is also a safe place, Parra said. “And I know from growing up in a roller rink, how that changed direction in my life.”

Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.

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