Skating Outdoors

by Steve, March 6th, 2007

Living in Portland, Ore., outdoor ice skating is a novelty concept. When I first moved here in 1989, they had a rink set up in Pioneer Courthouse Square, completely enclosed in a large tent. That was the last year they did that. I remember taking a few turns around the tiny little rink that first winter here, then pretty much hanging up the blades until just a few years ago.

I learned to skate outside, on the pond at City Park in Iowa City, as well as on Lake MacBride and the Coralville Reservoir. Also on the flooded and frozen parking lot at Mercer Park, where my dad broke his leg ice skating. We had no indoor rink in Iowa City, though the city council used to talk about building one from time to time.

I never skated on an indoor rink until my Mom started working for Parks and Rec in Littleton, Co., and we’d go to South Suburban Ice Arena occasionally, where some famous figure skaters trained and my cousin played powder-puff hockey.

I remember the last time I skated at City Park. I was a young adult; it must have been the winter of ’86-’87. I showed up at the pond pretty much at the exact moment one of my coworkers coincidentally showed up. The city had a big old stop sign with the words “thin ice” printed beneath “stop”, cut in half with hinges so it could be folded up when the ice was safe. My friend and I looked at the sign, and looked at the ice. It had been cold, and it was hard to imagine there would be a problem. He went ahead and folded the sign, and we laced up our skates. He was a far better skater than I, and we casually stroked around the pond. It wasn’t long before a cop showed up and accused us of folding up the sign and sent us on our way. (Having discovered our mutual love of ice, we later took a road trip up to Minnesota to see the North Stars play at the venerable old Met Center in Bloomington.)

Though I remember every winter hearing of snowmobiles or 4x4s crashing through the ice on Coralville Reservoir or Lake MacBride, I never heard of skaters going through the ice. Since I’ve been away from it for so long, outdoor skating has a romantic allure to it. The crisp, fresh air, hot cocoa in the warming hut, and strange little things like large goldfish (carp) frozen near the surface of the ice. I’ve conveniently forgotten about the horrible, pitted, chipped ice surface (which will trash your blades as quick as walking on concrete), the bone chilling cold, and the massive pressure cracks that grab you by the ankles and send you sprawling.

Then today, I read this. Wacky Mommy always says, no way is she going to skate on a pond. Now I know I’ll never convince her it’s safe. And now that Iowa City has an indoor rink (well, Coralville, anyway), there’s no need to trash your blades on the pond at City Park if we move back to Iowa City.

But I still have my memories.