Wichita’s new outdoor ice rink, the centerpiece of a ‘Winter Wonderland,’ to open Friday

Wichita watches movies about people ice skating outside at Christmas. Wichita takes trips to Kansas City or New York City to ice skate outside at Christmas.

Wichita does not ice skate outside at Christmas.

It didn’t, anyway.

On Friday, Chicken N Pickle — the entertainment venue that opened earlier this year at the Plazzio at 13th and Greenwich — will open its new 100 foot x 60 foot outdoor ice skating rink to the public and will keep it open through the end of February. The rink, about half the size of a regulation hockey rink, can comfortably fit between 100 and 150 skaters.

It’s set up outside on the courtyard where, during the spring and summer, customers played yard games and hung out to watch concerts on the venue’s stage.

This week, though, crews from KCIce, the Kansas City-based ice rink company that Chicken N Pickle partnered with for the project, have been in town putting together the new rink, whose ice is made using a complicated and expensive system that involves a giant chiller in the parking lot, glycol, water and cold weather. Once frozen, the ice will stay in good shape for the season with the help of a Zamboni that will be parked under one of Chicken N Pickle’s nearby canopies.

Through the holidays, the staff predicts, public ice skating will likely be the big draw. It’ll happen every day from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. while the kids are out of school for the holidays. It’ll cost $9 for a 90-minute skating session plus $4 for skate rental.

But ice skating won’t be the only draw. The rink will also be used for Wichita to do something else Wichita doesn’t do —participate in curling — the popular Winter Olympics sport that involves brooms and gliding rocks, as well as pond hockey, a type of “hockey light” where competitors’ only equipment is gloves, skates and a stick.

The rink, which has been officially titled Chicken N Pickle Ice Pond at the Plazzio, has already generated crazy levels of interest, said Bill Koning, regional manager for Chicken N Pickle, and it hasn’t even opened yet. Earlier this month, the venue shared a picture of the rink under construction on its Facebook page, and the post blew up. It was “liked” nearly 4,000 times and shared 3,300 times.

If that interest translates into skaters, curlers and hockey players, it could become Wichita’s most visited holiday attraction.

“This thing could be off the charts,” Koning said.

A ‘WINTER WONDERLAND’

Wichita has long had an indoor ice rink at the Wichita Ice Center, which opens for public skating regularly.

But Wichita hasn’t had an outdoor skating rink like the ones that draw big crowds to skate under the stars at Kansas City’s Crown Center or at New York City’s Rockefeller Center.

When Chicken N Pickle opened its first venue in north Kansas City in 2016, it didn’t plan for an ice rink. And once executives got the idea, they determined that they didn’t have the space to add one.

But when they decided to expand into Wichita, they were intentional about creating a space where they could add an ice rink during winter months. The concept fit perfectly with their overall mission, which is giving families places to hang out together and participate in activities that will turn into memories, Koning said.

They decided to partner with KCIce, which is building, maintaining and providing staffing and instruction at the rink. The company, founded in 2011, has put in several other ice rinks across the Kansas City area and had long been trying to find a place to build a rink somewhere that had built in food and beverage options and a family-friendly feel.

“This really is a partnership between two Kansas City-based companies that have values that kind of line up and want to bring an experience that you can’t get anywhere else,” Koning said.

Chicken N Pickle is now planning to add an ice rink to the Overland Park store it’ll open next year, but Wichita’s will be the first.

After Thanksgiving, Chicken N Pickle will turn into a “winter wonderland,” said general manager Kelsey Rockett.

The staff will decorate the grounds with lots of Christmas trees, including a 16.5-foot centerpiece tree. They’ll have hot chocolate every night, and on Saturday nights in December, Santa will show up and skate with the crowds.

“The community is beyond excited,” Rockett said. “We get questions every single day — ‘When is it gonna be ready? When is it gonna be ready?’ We’ve had people show up just to check to see if it’s ready.’”

Though ice skating is predicted to be wildly popular, especially during the Christmas season, people seem to be slightly more excited about curling, said Clayton Jacks, the KCIce general manager overseeing the Wichita project.

The sport has gained fans over the past couple of Winter Olympic Games, and people are drawn to its unusual optics, which involve players furiously sweeping ice in front of a gliding stone, trying to get it to stop in just the right spot.

People who want to try curling and pond hockey are advised to visit the Chicken N Pickle website at chickennpickle.com/wichita and click on the Ice Pond tab to find out when sessions are being put on. They’ll generally be in the mornings before and in the evening after public skate.

The venue also will be offering ice skating, curling and hockey lessons on the rink and will rent it out for events and group bookings.

People can start skating anytime after 3 p.m. on Friday, Jacks said.

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