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Butte High Altitude Speed Skating Center still a gem, still open to the public free of charge

Posted at 6:11 PM, Jan 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-13 21:35:44-05

BUTTE — It's a warm, cloudless January afternoon, and Dr. Dave Silk is on the ice, gliding around the rink with a group of kids he's teaching to skate.

Over 30 years after Silk first trained at what was then a world-class facility known as the U.S. High Altitude Speed Skating Center, he's still as committed to this frozen quarter-mile ellipse -- and getting his community to make the most of it -- as he was when he was preparing to skate in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

"It means quite a bit," said Silk, who is now the coach of the Butte speed skating team. "I was skating hard and traveling around. We had a lot of teams here competing and training. We've just tried to keep it going and get people coming out, skating and having fun.

"Just trying to pass on the knowledge that I got from my coaches on how to skate so hopefully they'll do the same when they get older. That's kind of the goal, is keep it fun so they keep skating and pass this sport along."

Completed in 1987 -- in time to serve as a practice facility for the upcoming Olympics -- the speed skating center saw elite athletes from around the world descend on Butte to train at altitude.

As the sport of speed skating began drifting indoors, the Speed Skating Center gradually lost its Olympic relevance.

But while it may no longer be a go-to destination for Olympic skaters, the rink has remained operational, thanks in large part to Silk's continued efforts to maintain it. And, even better, it's open to the public seven days a week, free of charge, although COVID-19 restrictions mean that the warming house isn't open and skates are not available to rent.

Despite those limitations, the fact remains that on the southeast corner of this town people can skate, without paying, on an Olympic-sized long-track ice rink. Outside of Butte, there's nothing else in the state that compares to it.

"I think it's really good for Butte to have a rink because not many people get exposed to skating," said 12-year-old Danika Carr, a speed skater who is coached by Silk. "This gives people a place to come out and learn how to skate."

Silk has poured considerable time and energy into the rink over the past decade. But taking the ice on a picturesque Montana afternoon makes the investment worth it.

"You can't beat days like this," said Silk. "You can't beat skating on a day like today."