For a few months each year, Cloudcroft offers its own version of a Winter Wonderland.
The town, located within the Lincoln National Forest at an elevation of more than 8,000 feet, is home to only natural ice rink in New Mexico. It’s also believed to be the southernmost ice rink of that kind in the United States.
“The rink has been kind of been around since the development of Cloudcroft,” said owner/operator Donald Wiklund. “Where the ice rink is currently located is kind of like the low spot in town, where a lot of the watershed recedes. That was basically a spot where water froze and people could ice skate there. There was a mayor in Cloudcroft, his name was James Sewell, and when he was the mayor he dedicated that area to be an official ice rink within (Zenith Park).”
At first, the rink was a natural phenomenon. In the late 1990s, a steel covering and concrete pad were erected to make it more accessible – and to prevent direct sunlight from melting the ice in order to prolong the skating season. Today, the James Sewell Ice Rink (named after the mayor who dedicated the area) is a popular tourist attraction in Cloudcroft.
“I would say anywhere from 80-to-90-percent (comes from out of town). The tourism off of that is significant,” Wiklund said.
The rink is 60 feet wide by 120 feet long, and Wiklund says he’s had as many as 100 people on the ice at a given time. The length of the skating season can vary, beginning as early as Thanksgiving weekend and running as late as March. That, of course, is dependent upon the weather. Visitors are advised to check the rink’s Facebook and Instagram pages for hours, since they can be fluid. The most popular skating times typically include Christmas break, New Year’s Day and Martin Luther King Day or President’s Day weekends.
“It’s just been kind of intermittent as far as when we can open and be fully operational,” Wiklund said.
The rink generally only offers open skate options, but Wiklund has designs on expanding what can be done on the ice in the future if he is able to receive a recreational grant, which could also improve the facility to extend the season.
“We are interested in trying to promote a figure skating and hockey program,” he said. “I think the interest is there. It’s something that we certainly want to see happen for the kids because there’s not much for them to do. I’ve gone (in) on used hockey equipment and used skates to help promote that. We have pickup games every now and then. But usually that’s either first thing in the morning before we open or afterwards.”
The facility includes a snack bar that offers appropriate fare such as hot chocolate and s’mores. And there’s even a warming hut where visitors can put on their skates or simply watch what transpires on the ice if they don’t want to participate.
Most people tend to skate for about an hour, but there’s plenty more to do once they’re done making laps around the rink. Wiklund sells sleds and tubes for use on the hills at Zenith Park, and there are more advanced designated sledding areas in Upper Karr Canyon. Other outdoor options such as hiking and cross-country skiing are also available.
The rink, though, is an attraction in itself. For Wiklund, it became ingrained in his life.
“I moved to Cloudcroft in the early 90s. Myself along with all my siblings, we never knew how to ice skate or anyting like that,” he said. “That’s where we actually learned to ice skate. It just kind of slowly integrated for us. And now I run it.”