Ian Jewell dons a bright green long sleeve shirt under a navy t-shirt, a pair of black joggers, a straw sunhat and, of course, his hockey skates as he films himself skating on the ice within the Dark Canyon Wilderness Area, sprinting over the ice as he passes a hockey puck to himself.
“YO!” he captions the video he posts on the “Moab Ice Rink” Facebook page. “If you’ve never skated on PERFECT GLASS before, DO YOURSELF A FAVOR, and make the drive tomorrow to purify your soul in the glassy cathedral of the Dark Canyon. If you don’t skate on DCL this weekend, your ancestors will curse you from the afterlife.”
To the members of the Moab Ice Rink page, Jewell, with his humor, his sunhat and his years of knowledge about ice skating, is Moab’s ice forecaster.
Nearly every day during the ice season, which typically runs from mid-October to early March, Jewell will post ice updates to the Facebook page in hopes of getting people out to have fun, and for him, in hopes of organizing a hockey game.
The page was started years ago in an attempt to rally Moabites to create an ice rink at the Spanish Trail Arena, a project which ultimately failed, but Jewell “hijacked” the page to make it into a community bulletin board.
“I kind of hijacked it in a way, but it made sense,” he said. And it does make sense: the page has over 250 members, most of whom are almost as devoted to it as Jewell, posting regularly to ask each other about ice conditions and times to go out.
Jewell has been skating ever since he was a child growing up in Philadelphia, he said. His father is from Canada—a dead give-away for why he was enrolled in youth hockey so early on, he said—and he continued playing hockey through college. It’s this expertise that allows him to know how to test the ice. He’ll step out onto the frozen surface and tap his hockey stick on it to listen to the sound: thin ice, when it’s tapped and skated over, will make ethereal and echoing laser-like noises, an obvious sign that the ice is unstable.
If there’s no immediate sound of cracking, he’ll then tentatively test it with a few skating laps: if it holds, and if it sounds right, he’ll put out the call.
“The sound is the main indicator,” he said. “Which is maybe unscientific … I personally do not like to drill a hole and measure, I just don’t like drilling holes or smashing holes in the ice at all. To me, that’s the opposite of what I ever want to do.”
If there are people ice-fishing on the lake, he’ll go over and ask what the ice is measuring at, he said, “but by then I’m already skating anyway.”
Ice skating in Moab didn’t initially occur to Jewell as something he could do when he moved to Moab. It doesn’t occur to a lot of people—Moab is widely known for its hiking, biking, and climbing; in the off-season, some locals will swarm to the mountains to go skiing or more likely, will flee to warmer climates in pursuit of hiking, biking, and climbing. Ice skating was never high on anyone’s radar, including Jewell.
“It was probably my third year in Moab when I found out that Ken’s lake was frozen, and a few guys would go out to play [hockey],” he said. “And I was like, ‘oh, awesome!’ And I joined in.”
It took him a few more years of living in Moab to realize that if he wanted to skate earlier in the year—in, say, October—all he had to do was start wandering up into the mountains.
Jewell spends a significant amount of time scoping out lakes to skate on. Early in the season, he’ll skate at Oowah Lake in the La Sals. Once the road becomes impassable in late December, he’ll venture over to a stock pond off of La Sal Loop Road, or he’ll come back down to Ken’s Lake, just south of town.
He spends an even more significant amount of time shoveling hockey rinks to play on. Sometimes he’ll spend two hours shoveling for every hour he skates, he said. He’s a huge advocate for skating etiquette: he asks that people not throw rocks onto or drill into the ice within the rinks he shovels, and he asks that people scrape the rink too, so skaters can enjoy glassy, smooth ice.
“It takes a lot of work to shovel the rink and maintain it,” he said. “It takes a ridiculous amount of work.”
Last winter, Jewell got in 74 days of skating, which he hopes to come close to this year. Ideal ice weather involves cold temperatures. A lake needs multiple nights with temperatures in the teens to freeze enough for skaters, and cold days, too: any warm days will melt a lake.
“There’s almost no rhyme or reason to the ice,” he said. He’ll observe a lake freezing in certain sections for years, he said, but then the next year it’ll change. “Trying to figure it out or determine patterns is almost completely futile … the only way to gauge it is just to go check it out.”
He’s seen Moab’s ice skating community grow immensely, he said, especially with the use of the Facebook page. There were a few days last year when 40 people came out to enjoy the ice, he said, from families to figure skaters to hockey players.
“It’s a ton of fun when there’s a whole mess of different people, just pleasure skating,” he said.
Two weeks ago, Jewell woke up early in the morning to skate at Ken’s Lake. The morning was cold, the night colder, meaning he could start the day with a few laps around the ice. He posted a handful of photos to the Facebook page that captured a glorious and brilliant sunrise at the frozen lake: the clouds stained pink and orange, their colors reflecting on the ice while the sun peeked its head over the La Sals.
“I don’t know about the weekend, I don’t even know about the afternoon,” he posted, “but I know that this morning at Ken’s Lake was out of this world.”