One on One with Vail's Olympic Ice Man
Take in a Vail Yeti hockey game at Dobson Ice Arena, and you might assume there’s a pretty good chance that someone out on the rink has been in the Olympics. After all, Will Compton (a veteran from New Zealand’s national ice hockey league) and Dalton Speelman (a former Division I college athlete) are both on the current Yeti roster. Then there’s Jared Biniecki. The guy can barely skate, but boy can he drive a Zamboni. And he did—all the way to PyeongChang.
In February, Biniecki, Dobson’s 40-year-old general manager, was one of eight “ice technicians” (a.k.a. Zamboni drivers) from North America selected to groom Olympic ice at the 2018 Winter Games. Back in Vail now, sitting in a simple chair in the administrative office at Dobson, he wonders if it really happened. “It still feels kinda like a dream,” he says with a faraway look in his eyes, smiling and shaking his head.
But it did. And how it did is simple: he landed his dream job by being really good at his day job, and networking with the right people over the 14 years he’s been doing it. “We were all selected, ultimately, because we had that comprehension of how this works,” he says. And by that he means how, depending on all kinds of factors—temperatures inside and outside the building, the size of the crowd, the degree to which the smooth-as-glass ice sheet was scarred by skates during a given game—the best technicians just know exactly how much ice to shave off the frozen surface of the rink, down to the centimeter, and lay down the precise amount of hot water to refreeze.
“It’s not rocket science,” Biniecki allows. “But it’s definitely more of a science than people realize. It’s not just going out there with a hose and freezing your driveway.”
And the Olympic Zamboni team had to be fast. “We had 15 minutes, and that clock started as soon as the buzzer went off,” he recalls. “So you’re not even on the ice until 14:10. We’d back right up to that door, ready to go, as fast as we could. Teams are getting off [the ice], whatever. You’re looking at about an eight-minute ice make, eight-and-a-half-minute ice make.”
Back at Dobson, Biniecki says unequivocally that the experience changed him. In addition to sensing that everybody in town knows him and is now watching him do his thing at Yeti games—a role he used to be able to perform with relative anonymity—he also sees himself differently.
“I don’t want to say I take it more serious, ’cause I always took it serious. But it’s just that different level. It’s kinda like when you have that breakthrough of a performance in any category, and you’re like oh, I’m here now. I cannot go back.... I’m that guy from Vail who went to the Olympics to drive the Zamboni.”