Well, it’s cold. Freezing cold. So freezing cold that there are ice floes on the Chicago River. The good thing about it being so cold is the ice. And that the ice stays frozen. Hear me out. Day after day of low temperatures means that there are plenty of outdoor ice rinks to explore this winter. How can you join in on the fun? Escape from the layers of blankets on your couch (this can turn into a real struggle depending on your level of comfort), kick off those cozy slippers, and venture out onto the ice.
Skating outdoors at a local park or frozen pond is a great way to enjoy a cold day. Once you get moving, you’ll warm up quickly even if the high is only 20 degrees. The best part is the amount of space (except at some of the touristy rinks like the one at Millenium Park). You’ll be able to spread out without having to worry about bumping into other skaters, which is especially nice if you want to play a pick-up game of hockey or test out some new maneuvers.
Make sure to bring a shovel if the rink is not maintained by the park district. You may have to clear fresh snowfall off the ice sheet. Be safe on frozen bodies of water – ice thickness and ice conditions are subject to change based on the weather and many other factors. Falling through the ice can be a serious danger, so either know what to look for or only visit areas that are inspected by officials regularly. The good news is that if you are uncomfortable skating on a natural ice rink, there are countless man-made rinks that are worry free, with solid ground beneath them. These also tend to have less imperfections and offer a smoother skating experience.
The park districts in Chicagoland and suburbs oversee a number of outdoor rinks that are pretty similar to the experience at indoor facilities. There are scheduled times for different activities and the ice is the smoothest you’ll find outside. Typically a small fee is charged to use these rinks and beginners can rent skates. With these features come crowds, but the experience of skating in the open air is worthwhile, especially for those new to skating. Most of the time the rinks are designated as open skate, but if you are looking for a hockey game or stick and puck, there are hours in the day reserved for this too. Plan accordingly, you won’t be able to show up and do what you like at any time.
For those looking to have the ice to themselves, be prepared to search the neighborhood. Many parks have unpublicized rinks, less people know about them, and there is a greater chance that the rink will be empty. The better ones tend to be on flat surfaces, such as when they freeze the tennis courts. You may have to spend some time looking around to locate a rink like this and some basic maintenance with a shovel is usually required, but it is time well spent. Almost always, you will be the only group out there, giving you the freedom to skate as you wish.
The more adventurous type will love the isolation and natural setting of a frozen pond or lake. The ice can be a bit rough in places and of course there is the concern for safety. Don’t let this deter you, an afternoon spent skating in a more wild environment is really cool. Practice caution, be aware of your surroundings, and have an emergency plan in place. Always bring someone with you, even if that person won’t be skating. Check with the local forest preserve or state park for reports on ice conditions.
A day skating outdoors is an activity I recommend for the months of the year when all you want to do is hibernate. It will not only get your blood pumping, but will give you a glimpse of winter’s fun side. And if you’re really lucky, the people who said it was too cold to go out have spent the time preparing piping hot chocolate and big bowls of chili that will warm and fill you up.
Where to go:
Chicago Park District Ice Rinks
Cook County Forest Preserve Ice Skating
Niles IceLand Skate Complex – Outdoor Rink
Oak Park Park District – Austin Gardens