While the Christmas tree lots and mall crowds are two ways to determine that winter and the holiday season are coming to Los Angeles, another sign is the outdoor ice-skating rinks that spring up throughout the city. Ice skating in a tee shirt in 80-degree temperatures with holiday music blaring does not convey the same season’s greetings as bundling up to brave the cold and crowds to skate in New York City’s Rockefeller Center, but in Southern California (and numerous other cities) the portable outdoor rinks offer a welcome seasonal sign.
While there are opportunities to tan while skating near the beach in Santa Monica or on a lunch hour in downtown Los Angeles, many take the rinks’ arrivals as an opportunity to don sweaters, gloves and hats to look like they are truly on “ice.” In other locations for tourists and locals – Rockefeller Center; the Capitol Mall in Washington, D.C.; at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and nearly every major city – pop-up rinks are popular
To be fair, it can get into the 40s when people skate at night on some days, so colder weather garb is appropriate then. But, the outdoor ice skating rinks do not require the same freezing temperatures needed on ponds and other outdoor skating sites in colder climates.
Contrary to the assumption, the moveable, temporary ice rinks use “ice,” regardless of the weather in the vicinity. The ice is kept “frozen” with coolant pumped into the ice system that keeps the rink cold and dry (this enables it to reopen quickly after bad weather and be usable on a hot day). The coolant is a substance called propylene glycol, which can get much colder than the freezing temperature of water and still remain liquid, much like car antifreeze does. The propylene glycol is run through pipes in aluminum panels that under the ice itself. The glycol cools the panels, which in turn cool the ice above them. As a result, portable ice rinks can function in all seasons, but the winter in prime time.
Most of today’s temporary “foldout rinks” are made of aluminum. They are composed of a series of folding elements that are then joined together. The boarding around the rink and the pipes are frozen solidly into the ice to protect them. They are filled with 7 cm (2.76 inches) of ice, which forms a sufficiently thick layer for skating.
The skating conditions may not be ideal, compared to indoor rinks used for serious skaters and hockey players. But they are not bad for a little fun with coworkers, family members or a personal diversion. It may be exercise, but it does not seem like it when the activity is fun or in a beautiful setting?
Admission costs and skate rental fees for the pop-up rinks vary widely. The ones in suburbs are far cheaper than the ones catering to tourists. Even Rockefeller Center is far cheaper than the Eiffel Tower, but the ambiance may be tres magnifique and well worth it at one of the more expensive sites. So, in L.A. and many other cities, donning blades for outdoor ice skating could be the best way to is give oneself and one’s children a sign that winter is coming if the weather has not made it clear yet.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
Ice-World: Ice Rink Technology
Discover Los Angeles: Outdoor Ice Skating in Los Angeles
Yelp: Outdoor ice skating
Seattle Times: Open-air ice rinks draw skaters to Winthrop, Bend and beyond
KPCC: Here’s why LA’s outdoor ice rinks don’t melt
CNN: 10 of the world’s most beautiful ice skating rinks
Photo of Bryant Park City Pond skating rink outside New York Public Library by Beyond My Ken – Creative Commons license