Toe-pick turbulence

Dec. 6, 2000
7:45 p.m.
National Gallery Ice Skating Rink

Think hard white ice, silver sharp blades and crisp moonlit nights. Get out the mittens, the scarves, the hats and the cozy socks. It is ice skating season.

On one of the coldest nights of the season so far, five of my friends and I hit the ice at the National Gallery Ice Skating Rink just off the National Mall. At the outdoor arena, skaters glide around surrounded by some of the most impressive buildings D.C. has to offer. Strings of white lights and the reflection of the moon off of the ice light the rink, which doubles as a huge fountain in the spring. Classical music perfect for practicing a long routine plays softly in the background.

Pink-nosed, bundled up and with visions of Olympic glory, I traded in my sneakers for a fashionable pair of puke-colored figure skates. After testing the strength of the laces – to avoid a Tanya Harding-like catastrophe – and clutching hands with my roommate, I made my way out onto the ice. It only took moments before we were over the initial awkwardness of standing only on slivers of steel.

Warming up, I made loops around the rink where I encountered a fate worse than five sharks circling a surfboard and more dangerous than a wipeout. It was a nightmare on ice: hockey skaters.

These dangerous creatures are easy to discern because they do not wear the hideous rental skates donned by commoners. They have ferocious black skates with blades sharp enough to cut off any poor fallen skater’s ear. And they will do it, too. They weave in and out and cut you off. They are the truck drivers of the ice. Age is not an issue for the hockey skaters – some of the trickiest ones are the nine-year-olds. I dug in my toe-pick, determined to stand my ice, while ice sheddings flew in from all directions as they whipped by me.

After years of fearing the center of the rink, the place where the best skaters practice their double axles and triple toe loops, I decided my only hope was to conquer the speed skaters with my grace as a bona fide figure skater.

Just like the perimeter of the rink is dominated by the hockey skaters, the center of the rink is controlled by the people who own their own snowy white figure skates, complete with hot pink blade warmers for the time spent off the ice. As I slid into the middle of the rink, I felt like I was exploring uncharted territory. I knew it had to be the first time, in their years of sweaty foot service, that my rental skates had seen this part of the ice.

Before attempting my first leap I decided I should try skating backwards. After a little help from friends and rink staff, I mastered the art – well, at least I didn’t fall down. Overcome by the skating energy of it all, my friend and I were inspired to create the first women’s doubles routine complete with backward skating and leg lifts. Look for us in the 2002 Olympics. Sadly, we lacked the grace of Michelle Kwan and were not able to charm the hockey skaters into gentle figure skaters like in the movie The Cutting Edge.

The skating sessions last two hours, and at 9 p.m. we were called off the ice. All in all the evening was a success. So I was not able to tame the speed skaters, but they are the extra danger that adds excitement to the ice adventure. I still learned how to skate backwards and did not fall once.

National Gallery Ice Rink Hours:

Monday – Thursday: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Friday, Saturday: 10 a.m. to midnight
Sunday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Cost for students:

Weekdays: $4.00
Weekends: $4.50
Skate Rental: $2.50

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