Outdoor skating rink builds memories, muscles

By JeffGraveline

As the temperature drops in Chicago, residents and visitors will soon have a new outdoor activity to keep them busy during the winter months. The Millennium Park McCormick Tribune Ice-Skating Rink opens to the public on Nov. 18 and will be open until March 14, 2010.

The outdoor rink, successor to the famous Skate on State, began set up for the season over the Nov. 14 – 16 weekend.

With more than 100,000 people expected to attend the event over the length of its operation, Neal Speers, operations manager of Millennium Park, says the ice rink is just one of many events that the city hosts at Millennium Park that the public could enjoy.

A free price tag is one of the major selling points that the city is touting while advertising the rink, but there is a $10 skate rental if attendees don’t bring their own skates.

“It’s a pretty good deal,” said Speers. “Millennium Park in general is a significant benefit to the general public. I mean, the amount of culture [the public is] able to get, [at Millennium Park] for relatively no cost, 90 percent of the events are free — it’s pretty amazing.”

For Speers, the ice rink marks a major undertaking by himself and his staff. In the days leading to the opening of the rink, Millennium Park staff must super cool the concrete the rink will be constructed on, then put down water to freeze and paint the ice once it is frozen to give it the appealing white finish, Speers said.

Water must be applied almost every day to keep the surface in peak condition, especially with the warmer weather Chicago has seen this year, said Speers.

“We have quite a sophisticated system here at the park,” Speers said. “That makes our job a little bit easier.”

While Speers and his staff may have a tough job laying down and maintaining the ice, the general public gets to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Graphic designer Tara Hypke said she has enjoyed the rink since she was a child, and now she goes to the skating rink for the tradition and the memories.

“I actually used to go every single year when it was on State Street with my family,” Hypke said. “We would have a shopping day and then we would go [skating].”

For those looking to get some exercise at the outdoor rink, Mark Brticevich, coordinator of Fitness, Athletics and Recreation at Columbia, said that the rink provides the perfect opportunity to get a good workout.

“The most important muscle that [skating] works is the heart,” Brticevich said. “It’s cardiovascular exercise, which is always great.”

Brticevich continued to explain that not only is skating good for the heart, but it also works the core muscles of the body, along with building balance.

“Anytime you put balance into the game, balance requires more muscle,” Brticevich said. “So it recruits more muscles within the leg and it recruits a lot of core muscle. You have to have strong abs and a strong core in order to maintain balance on skates.”

The workout that skating gives the body closely mimics the workout dancing gives the body, Brticevich said.

Both are fun and people don’t think they’re working out when actually, they are working their core muscles and cardiovascular systems at a very high rate.

For Hypke though, the workout isn’t what draws her to the ice rink. It’s the emotions that the outdoor rink brings that continue to bring her back year after year.

“It’s the nostalgia. You can get a hot cocoa and it’s cold [outside] and [the cocoa is] warm, well it’s a warm feeling,” Hypke said. “[The ice rink] just embodies the essence of Christmas.”

For more information on Millennium Park and the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink, including hours of operation, visit MillenniumPark.org.