BUTTE – Speed skating is a winter sport that many people only watch every four years during the Olympics.

But in Butte, there is one man who is working to change people’s perspectives of the sport and spark more interest.

On a frigid, but sunny January Saturday, Dave Silk laced up his speed skating skates to step onto the High Altitude Skating Oval after spending more than 30 years on the ice.

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“There is kind of a lonely factor there, you don’t have a lot of kids out with you doing it,” Silk explained. “You kind of have to have that personal drive to do it.”

To say Silk had the ‘personal drive’ is to put it lightly. Getting a taste of competition early on his life, he quickly skated his way to the top of the sport.

“Just doing national meets, starting placing in those [national meets], then I started racing in Olympic style and then made the junior world team; it was just a progression of things,” explained Silk.

Talk about a humble description – for a two time Olympian.

“My first Olympic team was surreal, ya know,” Silk said with a wide-eyed grin.

He trained in distance events and while reaching the pinnacle of many athletes’ careers was ‘surreal’ the journey was not easy.

“Training for that, to get the skill and power stamina to do a good 5,000 meter at an international level, to be maybe top ten, was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

That speaks to the intensity of the training. Silk is now a father of two young speed skaters, a husband and an emergency room doctor in Helena.

Thirty years after he represented the United States of America at the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary, Silk still recalls what it was like to walk into the Opening Ceremony with his team and family there cheering for him.

“You’re at the Olympic Games and I was able to see them [his family] and they were just so excited. I still have that image in my head,” he exclaimed.

The High Altitude Skating Oval has a rich history, and Silk is trying to use his passion for the sport to keep the tradition alive.

Some of Montana’s greatest skaters have trained at the oval; Former Montana Governor Judy Martz who was on the 1964 Olympic Team in Innsbruck, Austria, once laced up her skates and raced around the ice. But those days have faded.

“Outdoor long track skating is not a sport that’s thriving, it never really has,” Silk explained. “It’s kind of an obscure sport.”

Now the president of the oval, he is using his expertise to coach not just his own kids, Will and Autumn, but also teach others who want to give the sport a chance.

“The goal now really for me is just to get kids on speed skates out here skating around,” Silk said with enthusiasm.

His six-grade son Will, is finding himself atop international podiums and has some lofty goals that mirror his dad’s accomplishments.

“Win the World Cup and go to the Olympics,” Will said as a matter of fact. “Yeah, that’d be cool.”

Will’s twin sister Autumn understands her dad has played a role in her skating and has influenced the way she views the sport.

“If he wasn’t as accomplished in it, I think we wouldn’t be speed skating,” she said.

The twins both started out on skates when they were around five years old and haven’t looked back. Plus, they both agree that having a coach who not only is accomplished, but also their dad, makes training a little easier.

“I think it’s better than having a coach that you’re not related to,” Will said.  “He can say stuff to us because he knows how we will understand it since he’s our dad,” added Autumn.

With old photos lining the walls of the warming room, it’s clear to see the long history of the oval. Now instead of international competitors racing around the corners, the ice is home to elementary schools learning to skate.

The kids stumbling around the ice now, is reminiscent for Silk, who said, “Just going to the rink was part of what you did as a kid.”
Getting a taste of life on ice, could turn into something remarkable according to Autumn.

“We can make new history too.”

The oval offers open skating TuesdayThursday and Friday throughout the week along with the school races on Saturdays. Everyone is welcome to come to the ice and whenever the sign says open, feel free to lace up and skate around a very historic piece of ice.

Connect with the High Altitude Skating Oval on Facebook, here.