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Skating season opens on the Mall despite relative warmth

- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2011

Temperatures more suited for the spring couldn't keep hundreds of people from lacing up their skates for the opening weekend at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Ice Rink.

By early Sunday afternoon, bystanders lined the rails as skaters of all ages and experience - many wearing only light layers - glided around the rink on the Mall.

"Last season we saw about 35,000 visitors, and we're expecting that much or more this year," rink general manager John Connor said. "Obviously since we're down here at the National Mall, there's quite a bit of tourists, but it's a good mix."

The rink, at Seventh Street and Constitution Avenue Northwest, is in its 13th season.

The central location is convenient, said D.C. resident Hala Hayes, because "if we had bailed, we could always go to a museum."

The 36-year-old mother decided to take her son, Leo, 4, for his debut skating season.

The rink is open every day of the week and people come for all sorts of reasons, Mr. Connor said.

He listed skating lessons, family tradition and people coming "multiple days a week on their lunch break to get in a workout."

Mr. Connor said about 500,000 skaters have taken to the ice since the rink reopened in 2000 after a major overhaul.

"We've got a state-of-the-art chill system," he said when asked about the unseasonably warm weather Sunday. "It can hold ice up to the high 60s."

This season also brought a new Zamboni to the rink to replace the 25-year-old former ice resurfacing machine, which Mr. Connor said was "like a tank."

"This new one is like a Ferrari," he added.

Mr. Connor, 42, joined the rink in 2001 as a skating guard and Zamboni-driver hopeful, then worked his way up to the general manager position. The self-proclaimed "rink rat" plays hockey and coaches at Fort Dupont Ice Arena.

At the Sculpture Garden, however, Mr. Connor's managerial duties extend beyond just smoothing the ice every hour. Along with reminding visitors not to climb on railings, he also offers a helping hand for skaters who spend more time falling than gliding, and even helps organize marriage proposals.

"I've got one on Tuesday," Mr. Connor said with smile.

As Capitol Hill resident Diana Corless laced up her daughter Viva's skates, Ms. Corless said she brought her visiting friends from San Francisco to the rink because "we were looking for something to do, a winter activity in summer weather."

Though surprised the rink was open so early in the season, Ms. Corless said she was happy to be able to make the trip to Mall.

"The thing I love most is the music," she said. "And you can skate and look at the National Gallery of Art."

The skating season runs through mid-March, weather permitting.

For more information on rink hours and events, go to www.nga.gov/skating.

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