By Leslie Pratt
GRAND JUNCTION — Hockey players, figure skaters, spectators and other ice skating enthusiasts alike have likely seen the ice resurfacing machine known as the Zamboni. However, most people don’t know that the owners of Glacier Ice Arena’s own grandfather invented it. Alan and Robbie Koos along with Kathy and Steve Edwards co-own the arena. Siblings Alan and Kathy are the grandchildren of inventor Frank Zamboni.
The family worked in the ice industry far before the invention of the Zamboni was patented. Frank Zamboni first got into the ice business in the 1920’s. He and his brother owned their own electrical business to assist the dairy industry in keeping their products cool. They were experts at making ice.
“They didn’t have refrigerators, so they packed ice for the vegetables and milk and that sort of thing,” Alan Koos said. “That’s how they got into the ice business, by making actual ice to ship the products with.”
Zamboni’s time making ice with the electrical service company was cut short when new technology made their job obsolete.
“The refrigerator was invented. It put a huge damper on their ice business,” Koos said.
But the Zambonis’ interest in ice didn’t end there. In 1940, the Zamboni family took what they knew about making ice and applied it to a new medium. They opened an ice skating rink called Iceland in Sacramento, CA.
“They knew how to make ice, and of all places, in Southern California they built an outdoor ice rink,” Koos said. “Iceland is still there. They went about four months before they immediately put a roof on top of it! “According to Zamboni.com, the rink operates just blocks from the Zamboni factory.
“Frank found that the process of ice resurfacing was labor intensive, and so he began to innovate with various prototypes until the Zamboni Model A ice resurfacer was able to produce a good sheet of ice in the summer of 1949,” an excerpt from Zamboni.com said. It was the largest machine built at fourteen feet, 9 inches in length, and 9 feet, 6 inches in height.
The invention of the Zamboni made it drastically easier, faster and less labor-intensive to resurface the ice than ever before.
“It revolutionized the whole industry. From ice scraping, to shoveling, to the hoser out there hosing down the ice,” said Koos.
Over sixty years later, the Zamboni is still the leading competitor in the ice resurfacing business. Although there is some competition with the Canadian-based company Olympia, people still know the Zamboni name.
“It’s like Jacuzzi: there are other hot tubs out there but when you see a hot tub, you think ‘oh, it’s a Jacuzzi’,” Koos said. “There are a few variations out there, but Zamboni is the one that started the patents on it.”
After Frank Zamboni passed away in 1988, his family continued their shared passion for the ice skating industry.
“We have three other rinks in the family still. That’s in the California area,” said Koos.
While some of the family remains in California, two of his grandchildren introduced Grand Junction to its own ice skating rink. Siblings Alan Koos and Kathy Edwards relocated to Grand Junction with their spouses in 1988.
Upon moving to Grand Junction, they knew our community was missing out on an incredible opportunity without an ice skating rink.
“My wife and I, and sister and brother-in-law came out here in 1988 and we were amazed that we were here in Western Colorado and there wasn’t an ice rink,” Koos said. “It was incredible to us.”
After a decade of working towards their goal, they were finally able to introduce Grand Junction to Glacier Ice Arena.
“In 2005 my siblings and I had an opportunity to pull some money together and go ahead and build and operate the ice rink. So we opened up in July of 2006,” Koos said.
Through their life-long experiences with the ice business, Zamboni’s grandchildren pass on this legacy to younger generations. Glacier Ice Arena is still owned and operated by family, with multiple generations helping out.
“I’ve got a son that drives the Zamboni and a daughter that runs the front desk. I’ve got a nephew and niece that help out here,” Koos said. “It’s a family business!”