The Southern California heat is ideal for in-line skaters--but for ice skaters?
"This is Hollywood; we can do anything," said Vicki Israel, who has been instrumental in putting an outdoor ice skating rink in downtown Los Angeles every holiday season for the last three years.
Indeed, nothing is too outrageous for the special-effects capital of the world. All it takes: a couple of thousand gallons of water, a few tons of refrigeration equipment and plenty of adventurous souls with sturdy ankles--or resilient bottoms--to strap on skates and take to the ice.
There are three outdoor skating rinks in the Southland this winter: downtown in Pershing Square, at Universal CityWalk in Universal City and, for the first time, in the Civic Center Plaza in Beverly Hills.
It takes the same amount of equipment as an Olympic-size rink to create and maintain the downtown and CityWalk rinks, according to Brian Klavano, production manager at Bietak Productions, which built both rinks. (The Beverly Hills rink, about 60 feet by 40 feet, is the smallest of the three.)
"There is such a demand for these wonderful outdoor environments," said Klavano, a native of Canada. "It's a great thing when it's done well."
To do it well, the same procedures are followed that keep the National Hockey League rink in Staples Center in shape--only on a smaller scale. A small ice resurfacer, a sort of mini-Zamboni, periodically scrapes off the snow kicked up by skate blades and applies a layer of hot water, which fills in the cuts and gouges and is quickly frozen into a smooth surface.
Former Olympic skater Willy Bietak of Austria owns Bietak Productions, which has built ice rinks for the Ice Capades, television specials and numerous ice shows. He found his niche in ice rinks after he came to the United States, Klavano said.
Although there are numerous indoor rinks in Southern California--in Burbank, Culver City, Anaheim and Pasadena, to name a few--outdoor rinks are an entirely different experience, Klavano said, especially when they're placed in the midst of the colorful and energetic CityWalk or beneath the skyscrapers of downtown L.A.
For those who need a little assistance on the ice, this Sunday, Dec. 17, Jan. 7 and Jan. 14, members of the L.A. Kings will conduct free skating clinics for children 7 and older at the downtown rink (advance sign-up required). Clinics for adults are scheduled Wednesday evenings: next Wednesday, Dec. 20 and 27.
"The Kings bring all the equipment" for the kids' clinics, Israel said, "and teach the kids how to skate with a stick and a puck. The rental and everything is free, because we want to give everyone an opportunity to participate."
'Like You Aren't Even in L.A.'
At night, the atmosphere around the 50-by-90-foot rink at Pershing Square is reminiscent of a wintry Central Park. "With the twinkling lights in the trees and the live music, you'll feel like you aren't even in L.A.," said Israel, who is from the Midwest.
The downtown rink also plays host to open skate parties, featuring a deejay, on Wednesdays, 7 to 9 p.m., and Saturdays, 8 to 10 p.m. Free holiday concerts provide background music for skaters on Tuesdays and Thursdays, noon to 2 p.m., and Sundays 2 to 4 p.m.
At CityWalk, the 70-by-60-foot rink can keep the kids occupied while parents get in a little holiday shopping at the CityWalk stores that surround it. The locale is decorated with thousands of lights and Christmas trees. Gospel choirs and a variety of holiday entertainment are scheduled throughout the month.
Universal opened its first public skating rink outdoors seven years ago, but the attraction couldn't be offered last year because of construction on the CityWalk expansion. Now that the rink is back, it's getting a good workout. All ages are welcome throughout the week, but Friday nights tend to draw teen skaters, while younger children and families flock to the rink on Saturday afternoons.
Skating sessions at both rinks are limited to about one hour, to enable every budding Michelle Kwan or Brian Boitano to get a chance on the ice.
"It's really novel to watch Southern Californians, most of whom have never been in an ice rink, take to the ice and have the experience," said Klavano.
He also has some advice for eager Southlanders who hit the ice on warm, sunny days: "I wouldn't wear shorts."
* Downtown on Ice, at Pershing Square outdoor ice rink, 532 S. Olive Ave., L.A., open daily and holidays through Jan. 15. Mondays-Thursdays, noon-9 p.m.; Fridays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. $6 per hour; skate rental, $2. Validated parking, $4. Information: (213) 847-4970. Universal CityWalk Outdoor Ice-Skating Rink, Universal Center Drive, Universal City. Daily through Jan. 7; hours vary. $6.50 per hour; skate rental, $2.50. Parking, $7. Information: (818) 622-4455. Beverly Hills Ice Rink, 450 N. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. $12 includes skates; $9 without. Weekdays through Dec. 15, 4-8 p.m.; weekends, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Dec. 16-Jan. 1, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. Reservations recommended: (310) 550-4607.