Time to skate

By Nader Ihmoud

Those Ice skates can come out of hibernation. Chicago’s 11 different ice rinks are finally opening again for the winter season.

The one with the highest profile—the McCormick-Tribune rink in Millennium Park, located at Michigan Avenue and Washington Street—opened on Nov. 18. Not surprisingly, the rink, which draws approximately 100,000 people annually, was packed with people on the first night. Among them was Debbie Smith, a dental technician at the Jessie Brown Veterans Administration Hospital who has been ice-skating for 50 years.

“I have been coming to the rink at Millennium [Park] for five years, but this is the first year that I have been able to make it to the first day,” Smith said. “I love to skate. I’m not good or precise, but I love it.”

Nostalgia is part of ice skating’s appeal, Smith said. She shared some of her early memories of skating in her native Flint, Mich.

“My father used to flood our backyard, and we would ice skate there,” she recalled.

One reason the Millennium Park Rink is a big draw is its location in the middle of downtown. Second, it’s free (skate rentals are $10). A third reason is the view. The city was lit up, and the sight of the surrounding buildings was pristine, Smith said.

“I mean look at the skyline—it’s magical,” she said.

Another who showed up for the first night of skating was Henry Mundt, a retiree who stood off to the side, enjoying the sight of the city and the ice skaters.

“It’s fun to go ice-skating,” Mundt said. “[But I’m] not skating tonight. I have a superstition about partaking in winter sports before Thanksgiving. I was involved in a skiing accident a while ago and now I don’t do any winter sports before Thanksgiving, but I’ll be back after Thanksgiving is over.”

The McCormick-Tribune Ice Rink at Millennium Park is in its 11th season and will be open until March 2012.

Another rink that local Chicagoans frequent is the Rink at Wrigley, located next to Wrigley Field, 1060 W. Addison St., in the triangle parking lot on Clark Street. It opened on Nov. 25.

Max Bever, director of communication for Alderman Tom Tunney (44th Ward), was there when the rink first opened in 2009.

“It was an idea that the Chicago Cubs and Tunney put together when they were looking for what to do with the triangle lot,” Bever said. “One of the ideas we heard from the community was the popularity of the Millennium Park ice-skating rink and some of the other rinks. We wanted to bring that amenity to the 44th Ward, so that families could have something to do during the winter months.”

According to Bever, the rink was fairly expensive to create, costing approximately $300,000. The money came from local businesses and the community, as well as from Tunney’s office and the Chicago Park District. The annual cost of the rink is approximately $90,000.

Bever said the rink is very popular, and the alderman’s office gets frequent calls in the months leading up to the opening regarding when it is coming back.

“All the money [collected from admissions] goes into the general fund to bring the rink back the next year,” Bever said.

Admission prices depend on one’s age and the day of the week. However, due to high temperatures as of late, the rink will not open until further notice.

For a comprehensive list of Chicago ice skating rinks, with prices and hours, visit ChicagoParkDistrict.com.