Go Figure

Ice skaters are sharpening their blades for one of winter’s most popular sports.

By: Amy Brummer



photos by Amy Brummer

The Grundy Recreation Center in Bristol, Pa., (above and below) offers two NHL-size rinks for hockey leagues, but also features public and figure skating.

Winter sports may be the one saving grace of a season marked with minimal daylight and chilly temperatures. While snow can be a hassle if you are driving to work in it, nothing can replicate the experience of sledding or skiing down a hill covered in fresh powder.
   Outdoor skating is also a joy, but one that comes with significant risks if the conditions aren’t optimal. I’ve trained my memory to believe that in my youth the ponds and lakes in my neighborhood remained frozen from December through February. Otherwise, how did I learn how to skate?
   Ice skating rinks were for hockey players and figure skaters whose parents were diligent enough to drive an hour away so they could practice. For the rest of us, it was a case of shoveling the snow off the pond and learning to stay upright over the bumpy surface pocked with pits and cracks.


   While I seem to recall some cautionary advice about thin ice, it had little impact at the time.
   But it is not something to be taken lightly, especially in this region, where winter temperatures can fluctuate between a daytime low of 20 degrees one week and 40 degrees the next.
   According to Vincent DiTanna, a ranger supervisor for Tyler State Park in Richboro, Pa., the ice should be at least 4 inches deep for skating. Depending on the depth of the water, this could take between two and three weeks of consistently below-freezing temperatures to make a solid base.

Above: Holly Gordon of Newtown, Pa., gives 5-year-old Amanda Fouss of Yardley, Pa., an ice-skating lesson. Below, left: Grundy Recreation Center General Manager Mike Rich.

   He explains that parks to the north of the region have people who monitor the thickness on a regular basis and post the information at sites designated as skating areas. But as this is Lower Bucks County, where it tends to be more temperate, outdoor skating is not encouraged.
   People who skate outdoors are doing so at their own risk, and should know that it only takes four minutes in the freezing water to die. For this reason, it is important to think about safety measures before you go. He stresses that one person should always stay on land to help in case of an accident.
   If someone has fallen through the ice, he suggests extending a sturdy branch, oar or ladder, and if that doesn’t reach, throwing a rope. He does not recommend going in after the person and encourages people to call for help immediately.
   This scenario can be avoided altogether if skaters stick to patronizing one of the several skating complexes in the region. While these places are not free and are only open for public skating during specific hours, there is no chance that someone will end up in the drink.
   At the Grundy Recreation Center in Bristol, Pa., a variety of open skating sessions are geared toward different interests. Public skating for individuals and families is offered on weekday mornings and on weekends. There are also scheduled sessions for freestyle figure skating and pick-up hockey games six days a week.


   Additionally, the center, which has two NHL-size rinks, offers lessons and clinics and hosts more than a dozen leagues. The Grundy Senators and the Pennsbury Falcons have traveling teams for ages 6 to 17, and the Lower Bucks Scholastic Hockey League, which includes several area parochial schools, are all based there.
   Built on the site of the former Grundy carpet mill, the facility opened in September, 1997, and replaced the previous Bristol Recreation Center, which burned down in 1995. The rink brings in competitors from all over the region, and the Junior C teams for players 18 to 21 draw hockey clubs from as far away as California to play in tournaments.
   General Manager Mike Rich says that in the past 10 years, the region has seen a growing interest in ice sports, possibly due to the United States’ success in Olympic figure skating and hockey.
   "People are getting out on the ice earlier and staying on longer," Mr. Rich says. He explains that they have bumper hockey programs for children as young as 3, and adult hockey clinics have some members over 50.
   All hockey players are required to wear full gear, and just the fact that they have equipment for children who are so young says something about how popular and mainstream the sport has become.
   Mr. Rich says it is good for kids to get comfortable with the gear at an early age. "I think the hardest thing for people in our adult clinic to learn is how to skate in the gear," he says. "Even if you know how to skate, if you think you are going to just jump out there with the equipment on and skate around, you’re wrong."
   The three-month-long adult clinic is set up to teach players how to acclimate to the bulky pads and improve their skills over the first six weeks. After that, the class is split into teams that engage in friendly competition.
   Lessons for all ages are offered, and a new schedule of classes begins Feb. 14. The rink even has programs in the summer for people who need a dose of winter’s chill in the dog days of August.
Grundy Rink is located at 475 Beaver St., Bristol, Pa. Skating is open to the public Mon.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-noon, Fri. 10 a.m.-noon, 8-10 p.m., Sat. 2:30-4:30 p.m., 8:15-10:15 p.m., Sun. 2:30-4:30, 7:30-9 p.m. Admission costs $6, and $3 for skate rentals. For information about public hockey, lessons, leagues and clinics, call (215) 788-3311. On the Web: www.grundyrink.org
The Face Off Circle is located at 1185 York Road, Warminster, Pa. Skating is open to the public Mon.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-noon, Fri. 10 a.m.-noon, 8-9:30 p.m., Sat. 1:30-3 p.m., 8:30-10 p.m., Sun. 1:30-3 p.m. Admission costs $6, and $3 for skate rentals. For information about public hockey, lessons, leagues and clinics, call (215) 674-2770.
Warwick Twin Rinks is located at 1621 Mearns Road, Warminster, Pa. Admission costs $5, $2 for skate rentals. For information about schedules, lessons, leagues and clinics call (215) 441-5004. On the Web: www.warwickicearena.com
Wintersport Ice Arena is located at 551 North York Road, Willow Grove, Pa. Skating is open to the public Tue.-Thurs. 10-11:30 a.m., Fri. 10-11:30 a.m., 8:30-10:10 p.m., Sat. 7-8:40 p.m., Sun. 1-2:40 p.m. Admission costs $6, $5 under age 9, weekday morning session, and $3 for skate rentals. For information about public hockey, lessons, leagues and clinics, call (215) 659-4253. On the Web: www.wintersporticearena.com
Ice Land Skating Center is located at 6 Tennis Court, Hamilton. Skating is open to the public Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Weekend schedules vary. Admission costs $7, $5 under age 7 and $2 for skate rentals. For information about weekend schedules, public hockey, lessons, leagues and clinics, call (609) 588-6672.
Mercer County Park Ice Skating Rink is located in Mercer County Park, West Windsor. Skating is open to the public Mon.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m., 8:30-10:30 p.m., Sat. 1:30-3:30 p.m., 5-7 p.m. (for families), 8-10 p.m., Sun. 1-3:30 p.m. Admission costs $6, $4 under age 12, seniors, and $2 for skate rentals. For information about lessons, call (609) 371-1669. On the Web: www.mercercounty.org