It happens every year at this time. Television programs feature New Yorkers blithely skating their cares away at Rockefeller Center's famed outdoor ice rink. Holiday cards show nostalgic Currier & Ives scenes of playful pond-side skating. And Southern Californians, unless they leave town, just have to keep on dreaming of a white Christmas.
Thanks to technological advances in the skating world, though, even sunny Orange County can play host to a holiday season on ice. For the second year in a row, Nordstrom at South Coast Plaza is providing Southern California's only authentic outdoor ice arena open to the public during the holidays.
Situated in the shopping center's north parking lot in front of Nordstrom, the 40-by-60-foot canopied rink will be open Dec. 2 through 17, following a benefit ice show Dec. 1 starring 1984 Olympic pair silver medalists Kitty and Peter Carruthers. Tickets for the benefit are $100 each.
The rink will be open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Each public skating session, which lasts 45 minutes, can accommodate 60 skaters and costs $4 per person, including the use of skates donated by the Costa Mesa Ice Capades Chalet. Proceeds from the sessions and the kickoff ice show go to the Orange County Ronald McDonald House, which provides housing for families of children undergoing treatment for life-threatening illnesses at Childrens Hospital of Orange County.
In addition to the rink itself, there will be a refreshment area and free grandstand seating to view the on-ice action. Three times daily, Tuesdays through Thursdays at 2, 4 and 6 p.m., a cast of six skaters gleaned from top ice shows will present 20-minute production numbers, also free of charge. The theme of the whole endeavor is "Celebration on Ice," carried out through boldly colored holiday decor, including 12-foot-tall toy soldiers, lollipop-shaped signs and oversized ornaments, a mural with a wintry landscape scene and a 20-foot-high tree made entirely of lights.
"I thought it would be a real treat to bring winter to Southern California," says Marty Wikstrom, regional manager for Nordstrom in Orange County, who conceived the idea last year. "I threw it out as sort of a silly idea, to have a winter wonderland, and our sales promotion team researched it and said it would be possible."
"The last thing you'd expect in Southern California is outdoor skating," agrees Peter Carruthers, now a Westlake Village resident, who began skating with Kitty, his sister, on a pond in their hometown of Burlington, Mass. "Skating outdoors is special--it's a very open feeling because you're not enclosed."
The work to bring that feeling to Orange County residents starts long before the holidays hit, Wikstrom says. A team headed by 10-year Nordstrom veteran Mary Lou Goree began planning the design concept and logistics months ago, and the mural, props and backdrops were built in the store's display warehouse in Fullerton.
The rink installation begins Monday, with the laying down of a four-foot high wooden platform to ensure a level skating surface and protect the parking lot from damage. Set atop the platform is a huge flatbed over a refrigeration unit, which is flooded with hundreds of gallons of water. It takes about 36 hours for the water to freeze into a solid sheet of ice, to then be maintained by a generator hooked to the refrigeration unit. During that period, the rest of the elements--decorations, concessions and grandstand--are set up.
Because of the special nature of the rink, safety is a prime consideration. Standards conform to those of conventional indoor arenas, with banisters, a barricade encircling the ice and Astroturf to step onto when going on or off the ice. Adults are asked to accompany children under 12 to the complex.
This year's rink will be open a week longer than last season's.
"You learn from experience," Wikstrom says. "We have television monitors now, so the skaters can see themselves, and we've added padding to the bleacher seats. And this year we've invited kids from Olive Crest and Orangewood, facilities that take care of homeless and abused children, to come share the rink with us."
Some of the changes were necessitated by the outdoor locale, she adds.
"We don't have poinsettias because last year the Santa Ana winds blew off the leaves. The lighting is different too, because of the winds."
The wind was the rink's only real problem last year, Wikstrom says.
"To be honest, we did have to close for one morning. But we have a canopy over the top, and things are secured very well. This year it would have to be a very strong Santa Ana to keep us closed."
New this year are the production numbers and the benefit ice show, both staged by Robert F. Jani Productions, whose late founder helped create Disneyland's Main Street Electrical Parade and Radio City Music Hall spectaculars; his company has produced shows for everything from the opening of Fashion Island to New York's Bicentennial celebration.