Manhattan local Karen Moline shares her amazing inside secrets on ice-skating in New York.

New York Ice Skating OneWhen I was a student at the University of Chicago, it got cold in winter. Very, very cold, with a stinging, icy wind that blew in off Lake Michigan. The City Parks Department, in its infinite cash-strapped wisdom at the time, thumbed its nose at Jack Frost and, as soon as the temperatures started hovering in the sub-zero level, flooded the Midway near campus with water, turning it into an enormous free skating pond. They set up coal huts at one end where we could change into our skates, with a paltry coal stove that didn’t make a dent in the temperature.

Back then, this was a dangerous neighborhood where we were warned repeatedly not to linger, especially after dark. But the ice was too enticing. We’d fill up a flask, throw on our pre-Thinsulate gloves and hats, and run out for a nighttime skate. We never saw anyone—no one else in the entire city was crazy enough to be out when it was that frigid. I’ll never forget the sheer joy of floating over the bumpy ice in the middle of a city, laughing ourselves hoarse. (I’ll also never forget the sheer joy of getting back to the dorm to de-thaw.)

There is something magical about skating in the middle of a big city, and if you’re visiting NYC at the holidays, it’s especially festive and a feast for the senses. Budget yourself, however, for sticker shock, as entrance fees and skate rentals can put a damper on your triple axels. Try to time your visits to off-hours where the wait is less stressful, and be sure to have something on hand to distract the kids so you aren’t tempted to leave just when you’re getting close. .

 The Rink at Rockefeller Center Fifth Avenue at 49th St.

The most iconic of the NYC rinks, this is smack-dab under the enormous lit-up Christmas tree and gleaming golden statue of Prometheus. The rink isn’t very large, so only 150 people are allowed on at once (translation = a long, long wait), most of them jostling for room or tripping over the little kids hanging on for dear life. That said, it is awfully fun to skate while surrounded by skyscrapers, and while hordes of tourists are snapping your photo and the lights are glistening and the music is blaring.

For more information, go to: www.patinagroup.com/restaurant.php?restaurants_id=74. You can make reservations there for a VIP skating pass (no wait, heated waiting igloo, hot chocolate, skates included for $95/adults or children) or for the first skate of the day at 7 a.m. ($25 adults/$15 children).

 CitiPond at Bryant Park Fifth Avenue at 42nd St.

One of the reasons why we love New York = all the free things you can do. If the prices at Rockefeller Center are out of your price range, head a few blocks south to Bryant Park, just west of the wondrous main public library at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue. Marvel at the entrance fee, which is precisely $0. (Okay, so skate rentals are $14, but that’s worth it, don’t you agree?) Brace yourself for an ever longer wait, so try to get there at off-peak hours, or spring for the $215 online VIP FastPass that gets you in, with skate rental, and bag check. And remind yourself that in the 1970s and 1980s, this park was junkie haven and the thought of a rink was nowhere within the realm of believability.

For more info: http://www.bryantpark.org/things-to-do/pond.html

New York Ice Skating Two

Central Park Skating

Trump Wollman Rink Enter the Park at 6th Avenue and 59th Street

As much as Donald Trump is a polarizing, self-aggrandizing puffed-up buffoon, the one decent thing he helped do for the city was to aid with the renovation of this large rink. (And take full credit for it, too.) It is a beautiful location in the very southern end of the Park, and if you’re in town for a while, take a few lessons from their patient pros.

For more info: http://www.wollmanskatingrink.com/

Trump Lasker Rink Enter the Park at 110th St. and Central Park North

Up at the very northernmost end of the Park is the slightly less crowded but no less lovely Lasker Rink. I adore this part of the park, which is near the gorgeous pond called Harlem Meer and all sorts of walking paths. Watch the hockey teams fight it out between sessions, then walk north for some scrumptious African food at the restaurants near 116th St.

For more info: http://www.laskerrink.com/

Stuyvesant Town Rink Enter at E. 20th St. stoplight between First Avenue and the E. River

Hidden near the Oval of Stuyvesant Town, an enormous apartment complex stretching from 14th Street to 23rd Street along First Avenue, is a private rink set up for residents and their guests. It’s worth a shot trying to get in as it is rarely crowded and the ice is wonderfully maintained. Even better, there’s no entrance fee on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 4-5 p.m., and you can stay on the ice till 6:45. Happy skating!

For more info: http://www.pcvst.com/events/winter-wonderland.aspx

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