-Making dreams come true –
I’ve always wanted a place where I can enjoy recreational ice skating and try out ice hockey, bandy, curling and other ice sports. It seems my dream will be realized sooner than I expected because Steppe Arena LLC has already kicked off a project to build Mongolia’s first indoor ice arena, big enough for hosting a Winter Olympics.
Excited to hear more about this project, I met with CEO of Steppe Arena N.Batmunkh, who is as eager to see the completed ice arena.
I hear Steppe Arena is planning to build the largest indoor ice arena in Mongolia. Can you tell me more about this project?
Steppe Arena was established earlier this year in February with the purpose to engage in cultural, sports and overseas projects and activities. For its first project, the company hopes to open an indoor ice arena that operates year-round in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. This was a public demand.
Whether in the past or now, children in Mongolia do not get to play on ice or train in ice sports for international competitions and the Winter Olympics in a proper, professional environment. Strictly speaking, the training environment isn’t adequate enough for young children to enjoy recreational activities on ice. We hope to provide them a proper environment where they can train professionally.
In this sense, representatives of some private companies came together to resolve this issue, support local athletes who are already making achievements, and allow our children and future generations to enjoy the same fun activities as children in other countries.
Is Steppe Arena the sole implementer of this project?
This is the first time such a large-scale ice arena will be built in Mongolia, which means that we will have many things that we don’t know or can’t do. Therefore, we’re seeking both local and international partners to assist our work. The Embassy of Canada in Mongolia has been supporting us considerably by connecting us to an architect experienced in building sports facilities. A young team from Mongolian architect company Anagram are also actively helping us with the project and providing many wonderful ideas.
In May, we traveled to Vancouver, Canada and visited all kinds of ice arenas, starting from ice rinks in small towns to an Olympic-size ice arena, thanks to Canadian companies VDA and HDR|CEI, with whom we have signed cooperation memorandums. We’re very grateful for the opportunity because it helped us pay attention to details we hadn’t even thought of.
Anagram has developed blueprints and sketches for the facility.
Just a few days ago, ice arena specialist Mark Hents, who is working on the project, said in an interview that the Canadian side is very happy to be a part of this project to build Mongolia’s first ice arena. He spoke highly of young Mongolian talented architects of Anagram for coming up with a unique design while incorporating professional advice from Canadian experts.
Did you initiate this project?
No, I’m just the CEO. However, I’ve always wanted a large ice rink in Mongolia.
In 1972, I went to Russia to study and at the time, professional Russian and Canadian hockey teams were having a series of matches. It was a really huge showdown between teams from two different societies – capitalism versus socialism. Both sides claimed that they had the best hockey teams then and it was amazing to watch.
I learned how incredible hockey is as a sport and I’m sure it wasn’t just me but many other Mongolians who were watching it as a kid. Mongolian hockey teams are pretty successful despite the condition they train it. It’s because they love the sport. We must provide them a proper place to train. The project initiators wanted enthusiastic people and I was asked to head the company.
Will the ice rink be consistent with Olympic standards?
Since we’re building it anyway, we should strive to make the best ice rink. It will be an Olympic size (60×30 meters) ice rink. International hockey, figure skating, short track ice skating and curling competitions can be organized at an ice rink of this size. We want to build an ice rink where athletes can train at a satisfactory level and viewers can watch local and international athletes compete at a standard size ice rink.
What kinds of challenges have you faced so far?
It’s very easy to say that you will be building something. However, the actual process is very challenging. Various problems arise such as how this building will be constructed, what standards to follow, what kinds of technology will be used and etc. We are doing our best to overcome these difficulties.
Besides these difficulties, there are norms and standards for freezing and chilling the ice and there’s a separate standards for ice rinks to be used for Olympic purposes. Its size, freezing temperature and other details must all meet considerably high requirements. We’re gradually learning all of this.
Mongolian construction specialists and foreign specialists are providing us guidelines and advice on this matter.
Are you making adjustments to the ice rink to suit Mongolia’s extreme climate?
First of all, whether in Austria or Canada, we looked for equipment that can withstand Mongolia’s extreme climate, fluctuating 80 degrees Celsius. In other words, the temperature reaches -40 degrees Celsius in winter and could rise to 40 degrees Celsius in summer. We’re looking for chillers that can operate in this condition.
Secondly, our architects are providing very good solutions. Apparently, ice rinks cannot be under direct sunlight so they suggested putting glass windows in only the northern section where the ice rink will not be located in. Austria apparently pulls up the curtains for their multipurpose ice rink.
There are some challenges but if we list them all, our work will not advance forward. It’s more important to manage and find ways to settle them.
Where will the ice arena be located? What will the building have inside?
The indoor ice arena will be built at the New Yarmag Complex in 8th district of Khan-Uul District in Ulaanbaatar. The land issues have been resolved. It seems that many sports complexes will be built around this area and we find that very beneficial. It wasn’t planned but it is welcoming news.
It will be a pretty big building measuring 105 meters in length and 85 meters in width. It will have seats for up to 2,600 people. The ice rink can be used for all ice sports, including figure skating, curling, short track speed skating. In addition to being for year-round use, it will be an all-purpose facility. In other words, we can cover the ice rink with special elastic covers to organize basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, boxing, wrestling, and taekwondo competitions. It can even be used for cultural events and concerts.
There will be a changing room for athletes, room for judges, medical room, room for the press and media, practice room, and public area with cafes and sports shops.
How far has the project progressed? When do you plan to start the construction work?
We’re currently developing architectural plans and making engineering plans with the help of not only Anagram but also other top architectural companies in Mongolia. Many engineers and architectures are very enthusiastic about this project, which shows that the ice arena is highly sought and demanded by the public. This isn’t just a business tool for a company. Children, teenagers and young Mongolians all want to have this kind of facility.
Just before this interview, I was exchanging emails with Canadian specialists about ice slaps, dehumiditation and chilling systems. The Canadian side is helping us find experts on these three key areas.
We’re planning to attend the World Winter Sports Expo to be held in Beijing at the end of September. We will meet with professional Austrian ice rinks supplier AST to see their equipment, especially chillers for cooling the ice. After consulting with our Canadian specialists, we will decide which equipment to purchase.
When our architects determine structural details of the building in October or early November, we will contact foreign suppliers. We’re planning to start construction next spring. Our work is progressing as planned. Since I’m not specialized in construction, I assumed the construction would start much earlier but with good planning, we’re getting more accurate timing for our project steps. Although the construction work hasn’t begun, the preparation work is going well.
Can’t the building materials be supplied through local companies?
Of course, we will prioritize getting Mongolian companies to supply building materials but we will need to procure materials that aren’t manufactured in Mongolia from other countries. The building we’re trying to construct is unique to Mongolia so it will be built with new technology, and for that reason, we have no choice but to seek foreign supplies, especially for equipment to maintain the ice rink.
This is a large project. How much will it cost?
I will not say that we have all the funding for the project right now. We have generated sufficient funds for the project with the help of our executive company, but we will need to generate more funds to complete it.
We consulted with the Canadian side and agreed to establish a publicly traded company, meaning that the public will create the arena through their shares. The company will be open to international and local companies as well.
We have made preliminary estimation for the total cost of the project but the exact amount will be determined after making detailed architectural plans. Once that is complete, we will trade stocks of the public company.
How will you manage the operating costs?
This is an expensive project to build and also operate. Many people ask us when we will get profit. The thing is we didn’t put profit as top priority. We have a social responsibility and if we only think about profit, everything in Mongolia will become a trading point.
We hope to build something for future generations – something that will not disappear with our generation. We want to build the right foundation for tomorrow.
There are many Mongolians who enjoy watching and training in figure skating. It is an art on the ice. We might get a Mongolian Olympic medalist figure skater in, let’s say 20 years, or even sooner. But for that to happen, young children who aspire to become professional figure skaters need a proper training environment.
Can cooling and chilling large amount of ice be environmentally friendly?
All of our equipment will be eco-friendly. Tremendous scientific and technological advancements have been made to this day. Nowadays, harmful substances, such as freon, are no longer used for chilling and cooling equipment. We can’t get equipment that uses this substance because the factories that made them are shut down.
Mongolian architects are being very prudent with this matter. We will also use renewable energy to some degree, if not for generating all of the power for the facility. Our architects plan to use solar panels to at least generate power for daily use or lighting parks on the outside of the ice arena.
When do you expect the ice rink to become operational?
The Children of Asia Games 2020 will be hosted in Ulaanbaatar in September 2020. This event doesn’t include ice sports but the ice arena’s space can be used for indoor sports. The ice arena will become operational without the ice in September 2020 and with the ice in October or November.