Former Olympic athletes reminisce about Butte's high-altitude skating center World Cups
BUTTE, Mont. - The path that led speed skater athletes to the Olympics used to go through the Mining City. Former Olympic Speed Skater Dave Silk showed us a picture of how the High Altitude Skating Center used to be. "They kind of reached for the stars when they decided to have a place like this," he said. Silk was on the USA Speed Skating team when the skating center first opened nearly 30 years ago. He told us he was one of the first skaters to set foot on the ice. "I think it was kind of warm weather," Silk said. "So the ice was kind of mediocre for the first few days. We got some colder weather and it ended up being excellent ice." Combing through the Butte Archives, we found another former Olympic speed skater who made a name for herself in Butte. Former Governor Judy Martz was the executive director of the skating center and one of the leaders to organize building the skating oval. "It did what it was supposed to do," she said. "Give athletes the opportunity to skate at a high altitude." Martz told us they raised more than $2 million to build the refrigerated track. "Every prominent speed skater in the last probably 20 years, previous to now, had skated there at some time or another," she said. From 1987 to the early 2000s, many speed skaters stopped in Butte on their way to the Olympics. Martz told us skaters from 17 different countries came to Butte's first World Cup skating event. "When the ice was quiet it was like a sleeping giant, and when we had the World Cup, it came alive." Martz said. "Everything was going on, different languages, people running around exercising, people on the rink skating." "It was very electric," Silk said. "There was lots of anticipation, excitement, the build-up was huge, just to have international teams here from all over the world." Silk told us the oval still has the potential to bring in the big names in speed skating. The freezer system under the ice has expired. Silk told us although the track cannot host World Cups anymore, the track is great for learning, practicing and skating for fun.