Skating on Smooth IceFeb 01, 2023 09:00AM ● By Lilace Mellin Guignard
Believe it or not, we have something to thank Hurricane Agnes for—after it devastated downtown Corning, the powers-that-be decided to build a new city hall, this time with an ice rink. Construction began in 1972, and the winter of 1974 saw the first skaters loop their loops. It’s been open every year since.
This was almost one hundred years after an artificially frozen ice rink opened in the old Madison Square Garden in 1879, ensuring that New York State would rank first in U.S. rinks. It’s probably good we rebels waited for the Europeans to work out the rink kinks, so we didn’t have to suffer through the versions of artificial ice that were composed of salts, copper, aluminum, and hog’s lard. Even in 1844 no one wanted to smell that for very long.
But people (and by people, I mean very rich people) wanted to skate in summer, and in 1876 John Gambee finally came up with a system of pipes filled with coolant that ran below the floor, and the Glaciarium in London became the first artificially frozen ice rink. Fully indoors, skaters were surrounded by murals of the Alps. Across the (unfrozen) pond, Americans mocked the pretentious Europeans and their fake nature scenes, and claimed our naturally frozen rivers and ponds represented our superior American values.
Then we got rink mania too, but luckily it doesn’t seem to have weakened us as a nation.
On the contrary, we now can come together with our neighbors from November to mid-March, whether they use hockey or figure skates, get some fresh air, and zoom off the winter gloom even if the ponds aren’t frozen. The Nasser Civic Center Ice Rink is not indoors, but it is covered and protected from the worst of the elements. In the last few years, several phases of an ongoing improvement project have been completed—replacing the rink floor and cooling equipment, painting the trusses and columns, and adding new glass that allows spectators to get a better view of the glee and terror on skaters’ faces.
The extra warm weather pushed this year’s opening back to the week of Thanksgiving. Recreation Director Alex Hamilton explains they rely on the weather to help, and “can handle warmer temps on cloudy days better than on sunny days.”
“It was designed to be a recreational rink,” says Alex, “so it’s shy of regulation [hockey] length in both directions.” But many players ages four to fourteen get their start in youth hockey here.
Open skating times are offered weekly, with some specified as “Family & Adult Skate”—that means those under eighteen need an adult present. It’s okay to watch your kids from the concrete bleachers, balcony, or warming room (which has small lockers). Food and drink are allowed in the spectator areas, but no glass containers or alcohol. They do not currently sell concessions. On the ice, the rules are simple: skate in one direction, no more than three people holding hands at a time, and obey the Rink Guards. Ages three to three hundred are welcome. You can even take your wheelchair right on the ice.
Say a group of your friends wants to meet at the rink but you have never skated, or last skated as a kid. Rather than trust your friends to initiate you in a safe and enjoyable way—the Rink Guards don’t teach during open skate times, but they will help you up if you fall—why not sign up for a lesson? Or maybe you want to learn some new moves or how to skate backward. There are drop-in lesson times offered each week. When you arrive and pay your $8.50, which includes skate rental, you’ll be assigned to a group based on your level. Lessons are one hour, which includes a fifteen-minute warm-up, thirty-minute lesson, and fifteen-minute practice.
You can get a ten-punch class pass for $75; punch passes are available for general rink admission as well. Drop-in prices range from $1.50 for tots five and under to $10 for drop-in adult hockey. Skate rentals are $2.75 (they have 220 pairs), and skate sharpening services are available for a fee. There are discounts for senior and youth ages and group discount rates for Thursdays. Want to throw an extra special birthday party for that ice lover? Rent the rink.
Everyone at the rink looks pretty happy, but no one is happier than Corning’s Mayor Bill Boland, who has a great view of skaters from the hall outside his office. “It’s such a pleasure to watch people enjoying it and exercising even when it’s real cold,” he says. “There aren’t many venues where people gather publicly anymore.” He has been instrumental in promoting the use of the rink year-round as a venue for public gatherings, including concerts. The covered open-air format makes it ideal. Warm weather also sees the rink transformed into pickleball courts, a craze that the mayor thinks is here to stay. Being sheltered from the hot sun helps its popularity in Corning, and the game itself is more social than tennis because people are closer together. “It’s too fun to be a fad,” he says.
No matter what activity you come to enjoy, the location is ideal to leave your car parked and walk a few blocks to have dinner or go shopping on Market Street. The rink is located at the Nasser Civic Center, 8 Civic Center Plaza. Park on Pearl Street or in Municipal Lot Ten. For full details, go to cityofcorning.com/parksrecreation, scroll all the way down, and click on Winter Program 2022-2023. This will give you prices, times, and descriptions. You can also call the Parks and Recreation Office at (607) 962-0340 ext. 1125.