A nice time to hit the ice

Baltimore Sun

The girl in the pink tights clatters across the ice with the swiftness of a Canadian goose, the grace of a galloping stork.

Alyssa Smith, 6, of Edgewater crashes into the endboards, slides down into a pile of snow and clambers to her feet, laughing.

"She's never had a whole lot of fear," says her father, Richard Smith, who has brought Alyssa and her sister, Ashley, 11, to an outdoor rink in Annapolis for just the second ice-skating experience of their lives. "I have a feeling she can keep going for a while."

It's just after sundown on an icy night in Quiet Waters Park, one of five ice-skating venues in or on the border of Anne Arundel County (Howard County boasts another, in Columbia), and the girls are among 50 or so skaters circling the skate-rutted surface under a wintry, moonlit sky.

"Listening to the music, enjoying the lights, seeing the kids having a good time - you can't beat it," says Smith, an Annapolis native, as he sips hot chocolate beside the rink and takes pictures. "It's worth giving [the rink] a few bucks."

Skating in the county is a far cry from what it was in the 1970s, when Smith says he grew up navigating the frozen South River on blades each winter. But Kimmie Meissner and Alex Ovechkin wannabes from Laurel to Linthicum have plenty of choices when it comes to finding the right place to circle the ice or practice their moves.

From breezy outdoor sites in Quiet Waters and in the Glen Burnie Town Center, to the state-of-the-art indoor facilities in or very close to the county, skaters can do everything from taking a spin out in the elements to working on their slapshots, speed maneuvers or figure eights.

"It's as good a county for skating as any in Maryland," says Mal Curran, owner of Tri-State Ice Management, which has run the Glen Burnie rink since it opened in 2000. "So many options are available."

All five of the rinks offer skating lessons in one or more formats, in classes or on an individual basis. The indoor facilities - Piney Orchard in Odenton, the Laurel Gardens Ice House near the Anne Arundel-Prince George's county line, and the Dr. John J. McMullen Hockey Arena at the Naval Academy in Annapolis - offer ice hockey for children and adults, male and female - from informal "pickup" sessions, where individuals can show up for casual scrimmaging, to competitive leagues.

One rink, the Gardens Ice House, offers two less-common specialties: speed skating and curling. Dong-Sung Kim, the 1998 Olympic short-track speed-skating gold medalist from South Korea, now works with the Potomac Speed Skating Club, training athletes, from 5-year-old beginners to elite adults.

The Potomac Curling Club, which runs formal and informal competitions, is also based at the Gardens. In that sport, you don't even have to know how to skate. Players compete in soft-soled shoes, sliding heavy granite stones toward stationary targets in a game that resembles shuffleboard.

As for the remainder of on-ice options, all five rinks serve up more public-skating opportunities than Annapolis has snowplows. It's just a question of what makes your blades glisten: being outside and enjoying the weather, for better and worse, or taking in the smoother ice, fluorescent lighting and more hermetically sealed environment of the indoor sites.

Generally speaking, the two kinds of rinks draw different crowds.

"I can't say this clearly enough: Outdoor skaters really don't skate inside," says Curran, a Cape St. Claire resident who founded his ice-management company in 1989 and has operated rinks from Reston, Va., to the Pentagon. "They want to have a cup of hot chocolate with their neighbor, listen to holiday music and watch their kids go around and around.

"They're into fresh air and sunshine, skating under the stars. It's a more nostalgic kind of thing."

For the most part, though, the indoor folks are more serious about ice skating itself than enjoying an atmosphere that harks back to the days of skating on rivers and ponds.

"Sure, they're after a good time, but they're more insistent that the ice be perfect, that their skates be sharp, that they have room to do their jumps" if they're into figure skating. (There is less space for such maneuvers at the cozy Glen Burnie rink, especially during its busiest times - sunny weekend afternoons.)

At least one skating-industry statistic supports Curran's theory: More than 80 percent of indoor rink visitors bring their own skates, whereas 85 percent of guests at outdoor facilities end up renting.

Visitors to the Glen Burnie Town Center, a shopping plaza near Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard and North Crain Highway, have enjoyed taking spins under the sun and stars since 2000, when the county first bought a portable piping system and set of dasher boards to erect the rink just after Halloween and keep it open through March.

Easily the smallest of the five, it was financed out of Anne Arundel development funds in order to draw customers to the businesses that surround it (now a Food Lion, a Medicine Shoppe pharmacy, a hair salon and an assortment of restaurants).

The rink's somewhat bare-bones setup - it's lit only by street lamps, and if they want food or hot drinks, visitors must hit the nearby restaurants or bring their own - does little to thin the crowds, which have grown bigger each year.

Last season, the rink drew more than 10,000 people during its 120-day season, and despite a slumping economy, attendance is nearly equal to that this year.

During the dinner hour one frigid night this week, as holiday tunes blared from a heated tent, more than 40 people, including several groups of teens and four young families, were circling a smooth, surprisingly well-kept sheet of ice. The chatter and cries of the skaters echoed off the eateries.

The newer Quiet Waters rink offers a quainter, more bucolic experience.

The facility - built last year on the site of a rink that closed during the mid-1990s - is surrounded by a scenic pond, gentle hillsides, a brick-trimmed flagstone walkway, and a three-story building that houses new locker rooms, outdoor decks, a cafe and even an art gallery.

On a windy evening last week, Christmas carols boomed through a state-of-the-art sound system as about 50 people - families, young couples and several knots of teens, some of them holding hands - crunched around the ice under a moonlit sky.

"I'm biased, but I can't think of a prettier outdoor rink anywhere," says Cindy Fletcher-Holden, an amateur ice dancer from Annapolis who managed the facility last year, "especially in the late afternoon, when the sun goes down and the stars come out. You can see the whole park - the hills, the trees, even deer."

The rink features a variety of special deals, including "Cheap Skate" Thursdays with reduced admission for everyone, discounts for senior skaters, teen nights on Fridays, and "Mozart Mornings" (every weekday, classical music plays from the 10 a.m. opening of business through 1 p.m.).

The idea of reconstituting the former rink initially raised eyebrows in a county where a slumping economy had already left many government workers, including teachers, jobless.

But the new incarnation has been so popular that, like its smaller cousin in Glen Burnie, it has more than paid for itself.

One of many reasons Richard Smith loves Quiet Waters is the hours: "It's open [for public skating] all day," he says, showing no discernible reaction as his daughter Alyssa crashes into the boards once again.

And indeed, public skaters have 68 hours a week in which to circle the ice surface at their own pace. Glen Burnie offers 62.

Although public skating at the indoor rinks offers more in the way of physical comfort, the hours are scarcer. The Mullen Arena, part of the Naval Academy's three-year-old Brigade Sports Complex, offers eight hours a week. Skating sessions are open to the public.

The Gardens Ice House offers 17 hours of public skating, Columbia and Piney Orchard in the neighborhood of 20.

Public skating generally costs about $6 to $7 for a two-hour session, whatever the site.


103C N. Crain Highway, Glen Burnie

Phone: 410-590-5990

Skating season: November through the first Sunday in March

Public sessions: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays; 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; noon to 10 p.m. Fridays; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays

Admission: adults $6.50, children younger than 12 and seniors $5.50

Skate rental: $3 (hockey or figure)

Rink size: 100 feet by 60 feet

Ice rental: $300 for two hours

On the Web: glenburnieiceskating.com


600 Quiet Waters Park Road, Annapolis

Phone: 410-222-1711

Skating season: November through mid-March (depending on weather)

Public sessions: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays; closed Tuesdays; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays

Admission: adults $6; children younger than 12 and seniors 60 and older $5; group and season-pass discounts available. Note: There's a $6 per vehicle fee to enter the park before 5:30 p.m.

Skate rental: $3

Rink size: 185 feet by 75 feet

Rental: The rink is not available for private rental, but birthday parties, which include skates and access to the rink and a party room, cost $12 per child (minimum of 10 children)

On the Web: friendsofquietwaterspark.org/


5876 Thunder Hill Road, Columbia

Phone: 410-730-0322

Skating season: January through April

Public sessions: 1:15 p.m. to 3:15 p.m., 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sundays; noon to 2 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; noon to 2 p.m., 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays; 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays

Admission: Free for Columbia Association members, $6 for nonmembers

Skate rental: $3 (figure skates only)

Rink size: 200 feet by 85 feet

Rink rental: $275

On the Web: columbiaicerink.net


1 Greenbury Point Road, Annapolis

Phone: 410-293-9700

Skating season: year round

Public sessions (open to all): 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; 4:40 p.m. to 6:30 Saturdays and Sundays

Admisson: $6

Skate rental: $3 (figure skates only)

Rink size: 195 feet by 100 feet (Olympic size)

Rink rental: $275/hour

On the Web: navyhockey.net


8781 Piney Orchard Parkway, Odenton

Phone: 410-672-7013

Skating season: year round

Public sessions: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays; 10:10 a.m. to noon Mondays; 10:10 a.m. to noon and 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays; 10:10 a.m. to noon Wednesdays and Thursdays; 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., 11:10 a.m. to 1 p.m., 8:10 p.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays; 8:10 p.m. to 10 p.m. most Saturdays (call ahead)

Admission: adults $7, children 12 and younger $6

Skate rental: $3.50

Rink size: 200 feet by 85 feet

Rink rental: $330/hour

On the Web: pineyicerink.com


13800 Old Gunpowder Road, Laurel

Phone: 410-792-4947

Skating season: year round

Public sessions: 1:50 p.m. to 3:50 p.m. Sundays; 11:20 a.m. to 1:10 p.m. and 8:10 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays; 11:20 a.m. to 1:10 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 11:20 a.m. to 1:10 p.m. and 7:50 p.m. to 9:50 p.m. Fridays; 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and 8:10 p.m. to 10:10 p.m. Saturdays

Admission: $6 weekdays, $7 weekends

Skate rental: $3.75

Rink sizes: Two rinks are 200 feet by 85 feet, one Olympic-size (200 feet by 100 feet)

Rink rental: $325/hour

On the Web: thegardensicehouse.com

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