Controversial bubble moves to East Coast
Vail sells its embattled and inflatable ice rink to city in Rhode Island

Photo by Shane Macomber


Vail has sold its inflatable ice rink to a city in Rhode Island.
Shane Macomber

Edward Stoner
November 29, 2006

VAIL - The inflatable Vail Ice Dome - which lasted four seasons here - survived a lawsuit from its neighbors but ultimately fell victim to the bottom line.

Its new owner, the city of Cranston, R.I., is hoping the once controversial "Bubble" won't meet the same troubles on the East Coast.

"In fact, we've had just the opposite - clamoring and frustration that it took as long as it did," said Robin Schutt, deputy director of administration for Cranston.

Cranston bought the inflatable white bubble, used to house an ice rink, from the town of Vail, which will receive $225,000 in the deal. Cranston officials say the rink could pay for itself within two years.

"There's a huge need for ice time in Rhode Island," Schutt said. "It's a huge hockey community."

Schutt even humored the idea of a plaque commemorating the dome's tumultuous time in Vail.

"I certainly think we wouldn't mind honoring a city like Vail," she said.

Vail inflated the dome at the golf course each winter for four years. The town purchased the dome in 2000 for $770,000 to provide more ice time for local skating groups.

The 27,000-square-foot fabric dome uses a refrigeration system to freeze the ice and fans to keep the dome inflated.

The dome endured a lawsuit from golf-course area neighbors, who said the bubble would create too much noise and traffic in their neighborhood. A lawyer for the group said the dome looked like a "beached whale."

But costs doomed the dome. The town paid between $120,000 and $190,000 each year to set up the dome and tear it down, and the Vail Recreation District spent tens of thousands each year to operate it.

In 2004, the town and the rec district agreed to stop operating the dome. That decision was met with opposition from local hockey players and parents.

Cross-country trip
Craig Denton of Eagle-Vail, a former president of Vail Junior Hockey Association who saw his three sons rise through the ranks of the local hockey group, said the ice bubble was an important facility for the growing valley.

"It was fine while it was there," he said. "It should never have come down."

It allowed local groups to have more practice time and game time, he said. Local groups now play late into the night at Dobson Arena, Denton said.

Denton said the operating costs were justified.

"My philosophy for recreational facilities is that's what we pay our taxes for," he said.

The neighbors' opposition to the bubble was short-sighted, he said.

"They want all this stuff, but not in their backyard," he said.

Denton said he would like to see another ice rink somewhere in the middle of the valley, perhaps Edwards.

The Vail-Eagle Hockey Association, the product of a recent merger between the Vail and Eagle youth hockey groups, now splits ice time between Dobson and the Eagle rink.

The ice dome had potential buyers from Texas, Minnesota, North Carolina and even Colombia over the two years it was for sale, said Corey Swisher of the town of Vail. Cranston agreed to buy the dome in March, Swisher said.

Over the last couple of years, the dome has been sitting in trailers in Dotsero, Swisher said.

The bubble is moving cross-country in four tractor-trailers, at a cost of $38,000 paid for by Cranston. The last truck left Eagle County on Monday.

And does Cranston have anything Vail could buy from them? Schutt offered up the local delicacy of the bayside city.

"We can send you some local clams," she said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or

Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO