By Paul Owen
Robert Parker picked the ideal winter to teach his five-year-old daughter Emilia to skate.
The warm weather throughout January and the first part of February has brought him to the outdoor rink at Victoria Park three or four times this year to lace up his skates and stand in the middle of the rink with Emilia clinging to his legs for support. His older daughter Naiya, 11, skates rings around them, occasionally returning to check on her sister.
|Photo by Paul Owen|
|Robert Parker, right, and his 11-year-old daughter Naiya, left, help five-year-old Emilia gain her balance at the rink at Victoria Park.|
“It’s outdoors, it’s free, so what the heck. Let’s take advantage of it,” Parker said.
Parker has been able to use the rink at Victoria Park despite balmy temperatures this winter because it’s built on top of a refrigerated pad. That means the rink won’t begin melting until temperatures climb above 10 C, according to Wayne Sterling, the rink’s facility equipment operator.
A few blocks away at Covent Garden Market, London’s other downtown outdoor skating rink is having a season its managers would rather forget.
“It’s been the worst year we’ve had in the 11 years it’s been up and operating,” said Bob Usher, general manager of Covent Garden Market.
“Because of where we’re located, not like Victoria Park where it’s surrounded by trees, we get the full afternoon sun, full tilt on that rink, and it will start to melt a bit, even though we do have refrigeration.”
Usher said Covent has had to close the rink numerous times throughout the season as it got too soft for skating, usually in the late afternoon on warm days. This after having to shut it down only twice last winter.
“This year has not been a good year for us. Not because there’s anybody not wanting to skate, not because there’s anything wrong with the ice, not because the trend has changed: it’s weather affected.”
|Photo by Paul Owen|
|Skaters take the counter-clockwise route around the rink at Victoria Park.|
With the shade from trees and the band shell covering the rink in the afternoon, Victoria Park hasn’t had to shut down its ice this year, and has had a typical amount of usage, Sterling said.
In fact, warm temperatures and rain instead of snow have actually helped the quality of the ice at Victoria Park.
Typically, it takes until February for the ice to grow to about four inches thick, but this year it reached that thickness in January, he said.
“If it rains in the afternoon and it’s a light rain, it freezes as soon as it hits it,” Sterling said, adding a nighttime downpour can build about an inch of ice by lying on the rink overnight and freezing.
However, it’s also created confusion from skaters as to whether or not the rink is open.
“When it rains, we get a lot of people calling to see if we’re open,” said building attendant/cruiser Andrea Myers.
As in past years, the rink use slipped after the Christmas holidays, according to Sterling, who said the rink was busiest between the Christmas tree lighting at the start of December and when kids went back to school in early January.
It will continue to operate until March 18, the last day of Spring Break for schools, unless the warmer temperatures force it to shut down earlier.
The Covent Garden rink will also operate as long as the weather can, which Usher said has never been beyond March 6.