I have a bad habit of putting seasonal activities on my list of things to do and then making up dozens of excuses to not actually go. Last year, for example, was the fifth time I’ve lived in Chicago for more than half of baseball season, but only the second and third times I ever managed to go to a game, despite always swearing that this year, I’m going to go to a Cubs game (April: “It’s too cold!” May: “It’s too cold and/or I’m too busy!” June, July, August, September, October: “It’s marathon season and I’m too busy!” November: “Oh…oops.”). This has also been my general approach to ice skating. Including the semester I spent in Chicago during college, this is now my sixth winter here. Every single winter I’ve said I’m going to go ice skating, and every single winter I’ve never followed through…until last Saturday.
Ice skating got promoted from the bucket list to the actual to do list this winter. After deciding not to go two Saturdays ago (it was 5 degrees outside two Saturdays ago) and then deciding not to go on Wednesday like I had considered (it was thunderstorming Wednesday. Thunderstorming! Of all the weather patterns I thought would interfere with my ice skating dreams, thunderstorming certainly was not one of them!), this past Saturday finally brought perfect ice skating weather, with a precipitation-free atmosphere and temperatures in the mid-30s.
Maggie Daley Park and Millennium Park are both viable downtown ice skating options, but Maggie Daley had the upper hand due to its design. Unlike your traditional ice rink, Maggie Daley features an ice ribbon–think a running track, but squiggly, with uphills and downhills, and climbing walls instead of a field in the middle. Maggie Daley also has the advantage of still being relatively new, and therefore more exciting, so Maggie Daley it was.
The ribbon opens for skating at 10 a.m. on Saturdays, and “opening” basically amounts to a park employee opening the gate and letting you have at it. The ribbon is free to use, and at least on Saturday, they didn’t seem to monitor how many people were on the ice at any given time (this may be different during high traffic periods–I have no idea, so don’t quote me on that–but this past Saturday morning didn’t have an overwhelming crowd), so you can hop on and off as you please. If you have your own skates, you can bring those, or you can rent skates in a building on the north side of the ribbon for $12 Monday-Thursday and $14 Friday-Sunday (and holidays). The management holds your shoes as collateral for your skates, but if you have other things to store, the building has lockers and there are (unattended, from what I could see) bag racks on the north and south side of the ribbon if you don’t want a locker and don’t want to skate around with a backpack or other bag. The south side of the ribbon also has picnic tables and a food stand in case you need to take a hot chocolate break 😉
Like so many things in life, ice skating quickly proved to be on of those things that seems like it should be so easy and yet turns out to be so hard. It had been about 15 years since I last went skating, and for some reason I assumed watching maybe a handful of Blackhawks games on TV and the occasional figure skating YouTube video (and by “occasional” I mean “like maybe four videos total, ever”) would make me an expert on the ice, since NHL players and Olympic-caliber figure skaters make it look as simple as walking. Turns out that’s not the case. While I managed to stay upright the whole time, I had a couple tense moments, and on more than one occasion said some not-family friendly words while attempting to keep myself vertical. I, personally, had a lot of trouble figuring out how to work my skates effectively. I had figure skates instead of hockey skates (I didn’t ask for figure skates: they just gave them to me), and it took me a long time to master the art of pushing off to go forward without dragging my foot in such a way that the toe pick caught on the ice. I walked away from Saturday with an immense amount of respect for figure skaters, since I could barely figure out how to move, never mind move AND do pretty things at the same time!
I had no idea that the skating ribbon wasn’t flat until arriving, and I won’t lie: the idea of skating up and downhill freaked me out a bit. I figured adding any extra element to what already seemed like a fairly challenging endeavor would spell disaster. While it required a little more oomph to get up the hills and a tiny bit more caution while going down, it ended up not being as scary as I feared. (I should also probably note that these “hills” are very much hills by Chicago standards, which is to say, there is the slightest bit of a incline. We’re talking “only noticeable because you can’t glide up it” sort of hills here: just looking at the ribbon, you probably wouldn’t see the hills at all.)
Despite not having a clue what I was doing, I had a blast skating. I’m so glad it finally happened this year and would definitely recommend Maggie Daley as a viable alternative to a four mile run to anyone else looking for an excuse to skip their Saturday morning run in January 😉
Do you go skating during the winter?