Mid-valley hockey organization says newest ice rink in Carbondale expands opportunity

But other youth program coaches worry about spreading player numbers too thin

A Zamboni cleans the ice at Colorado Extreme's new rink in Carbondale in November.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Boards salvaged from an ice complex in Denver. A fresh sheet of ice smack dab in the middle of breathtaking ranchland in Carbondale. Hockey for free.

Former Avalanche great Joe Sakic once said, “I’m leaving the game of hockey with nothing but great memories,” and Colorado Extreme has certainly hit the sweet spot when it comes to spawning the ultimate memento.

Sheldon Wolitski’s paradise of puck went from its rudimentary half-rink oval at Crown Mountain to, very recently, a glorious, official-size rink next to the Rio Grande Trail east of Carbondale. The rink opened in November.

“I want to come help kids, and it’s been outstanding,” Wolitski said. “It’s been super cool just to see how these people come out.

“This is what they build for the Winter Classic, for NHL teams.”

Colorado Extreme’s Carlos Ross coaches players at Carbondale’s new outdoor rink in November.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

For the past two years, the highly-resourceful entrepreneur and philanthropist, originally from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, has financially backed a hockey-crazed effort to offer an inclusionary new program that caters to minority communities and girls. To support his vision, he went out and hired Carlos Ross, a Mexican-American, bilingual coach from upstate New York, and Maybelline Beiring, a female coach from Upper Peninsula Michigan. Jay Wolitski, Sheldon’s cousin, is also a Colorado Extreme coach and a former goaltender for Quinnipiac University. 

Then, he literally built a full-size rink on a $2.6 million lot just up the road from the Carbondale rodeo grounds.

“The property was turned over to us in August. We had a meeting with the county of Garfield, and, thankfully, they approved us to have a temporary ice rink for the next two years,” Ross said. “This property was all grown over and brushed over for all the leveling. Then, we had to bring the piping and the chillers and machinery, so it’s been a month-to-month project getting it all set up.

“Finally, we were able to pour water. That was an important day.”

Any kid willing to play hockey, but doesn’t have the means to do it, just has to sign up. Wolitski funds the ice time, the pads, the coaches — pretty much the entire ensemble. It’s already led to hundreds of local Roaring Fork kids registering, and kids have three respective teams — 6U, 8U and 10U — to choose from. The plan is also for Colorado Extreme to provide buses to pick kids up from school and take them to the rink.

“We’re doing this for a great cause,” Ross said. “I think our boss, Sheldon, really has the biggest heart. He’s done very well in business, and he’d be doing a lot with his money, but he’s actually giving it back to his community.

“That’s why I think we’re all rallying, and we’re making memories for the kids.”

Wolitski said he ran a successful business but wanted to do something more.

“I knew that I was going to be transitioning out of a CEO role to be with my family,” he said. “I wanted to focus more on giving back.”

Will it last?

But, starting a new program in the mid-valley while programs already exist up and down valley hasn’t gone without its controversy. Coaches from both Aspen and Glenwood Springs youth programs argue Wolitski’s rosters are pulling players who otherwise would have played for their squads. 

“We’re so heads down, building this program for the kids, I don’t have any time for any politics or anything like that,” Wolitski. “I prefer to focus my time and attention on this.” 

He said there’s a youth hockey gap that needs to be filled mid-valley. During his time as Aspen Junior Hockey president, he said mid-valley parents said it was unaffordable, they don’t want to do travel hockey and going to Glenwood or Aspen is too long of a drive.

Sun sets over Colorado Extreme’s newest rink in Carbondale in November.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

“We want to be sensitive on (encroaching) on Glenwood’s program. Same with Aspen,” Wolitski said. “But, I would like to set the record straight — all the kids we have are in mid-valley, except for a few that are choosing to come here because they can’t afford hockey.”

Casey Endlsey had coached youth hockey in Glenwood Springs for the past seven or eight years and later coached in Aspen. He said he’s all for a new rink in the Roaring Fork area, which is good considering Colorado Extreme let Glenwood kids use its rink at Crown Mountain when the Glenwood Springs Community Center’s ice was, at one point, malfunctioning.

But, Endsley also acknowledges that Aspen and Glenwood’s programs were already trying to make hockey possible for kids, even when they couldn’t afford it.

“The more hockey, the better, and I think it’s a great policy,” he said of Colorado Extreme’s aim to be more inclusive. “That being said, when I was coaching in Aspen and when kids were not able to afford it, they made it happen.”

He said when hockey families don’t have enough income as others, they keep three rooms full of old equipment that kids can have.

Colorado Extreme itself doesn’t hold any association with Glenwood and Aspen’s programs. They also don’t compete in the same league: Western Colorado Hockey.

Endlsey said he thinks it would make sense for Wolitski to be involved with one of the already-established programs.

“I do know that we already have three sheets of ice in this valley, and now we have four sheets of ice,” he said. “We have two programs with low numbers at best, and you’re adding a third program?”

Endlsey also questioned why Wolitski didn’t hire coaches locally.

“I’m sure there’s many people willing in this area that can help out with the program,” he said.

Glenwood Youth coach Jesse Krause worries that once kids commit to Colorado Extreme, they’ll still have to join Aspen or Glenwood’s programs when they get older.

“That’s especially rough on a preteen,” he said. “But, if (Wolitski) somehow has funds to keep it free, then, hey, that’s awesome he can do that.”

Krause said Glenwood also subsidizes players whenever it’s needed, and that they send their program fliers out in English and Spanish.

“It’s not like we don’t have opportunities for kids in the Latino community who just arrived and struggle to pay the bills,” he said. “We still have opportunities for them.”

Sheldon Wolitski stands on the ice at hockey practice at Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel in December 2021.
Aspen Times file/Kelsey Brunner

Krause said if Colorado Extreme is actually growing the game in the Hispanic and African-American communities, that’s awesome because “that needs to happen.”

“But, if you’re building the game, why wouldn’t you want to help out the things that are already there?” he said. “Hockey doesn’t grow on its own. It needs everyone’s help.”

For Wolitski, his plan is to start small and, hopefully, eventually turn his outdoor rink into an indoor one.

Before 2022 ends, he wants to apply for a full-time use permit, which includes creating an indoor rink.

“The goal is that we’re coming back with a permanent indoor ice rink, which would include a restaurant, bar, amenities for health and wellness,” he said. “It’s gonna be cool.”

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