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Why We Skate

By Luisa ColónNov 27 2020

New Yorkers have always been skaters. But long before the city’s skating experience meant a visit to The Rink, skating was a pastime that took place on any stretch of frozen water that New Yorkers could find—ponds, streams, and sometimes the East River when the temperatures dropped low enough. Even back when Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux conceived the design of Central Park in the mid-1800s, they envisioned New York’s first dedicated “skating pond.” Fun fact: when the pond was frozen enough to welcome skaters, a nearby belltower would raise a flag—with the image of a red ball—whenever it was cold enough to skate, and “The ball is up!” soon became shorthand for “It’s skating weather!” across the city.

The construction of Rockefeller Center’s ice skating rink during the Great Depression is symbolic of New York’s perseverance, and the urban skating craze lives on to this day. It’s also the perfect outdoor winter activity, an option that feels more necessary and significant than ever. And skaters will be able to maintain social distancing, since The Rink’s occupancy (usually limited to about 150 people) has been lowered—just one of the stringent safety protocols in place at The Rink and all over Rock Center.

Anyone who has skated at The Rink knows the particular enjoyment of being on the ice. It’s been the site of first dates and family skates. It’s become a way to welcome the winter at the start of the season, and bid adieu as the days get longer. People have skated amidst snow flurries and, on one memorable occasion, beneath an unusual, beach-worthy October sun (skaters wore shorts and sundresses, staffers swept the slush away, and The Rink’s chief engineer brought the ice coolant down as low as it could go). And while there are many spots at Rock Center that make for a perfect marriage proposal, The Rink is certainly an extra-special destination for couples.

All of Rock Center continues to expand and evolve; this season, renovations will mean that The Rink closes earlier than usual (January 17). That still allows time to skate through the holidays, outdoors in the city beneath the Christmas Tree, in the tradition of the New Yorkers who have gone before us. The ball is up.

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