Rockefeller Center’s ice rink opens amid Indian summer


Skaters glide on Rockefeller's ice rink on opening night. Photo: Laurence Bekk-Day

Skaters at Rockefeller’s ice rink on opening night, Oct. 10. Photo: Laurence Bekk-Day.

At the rink at Rockefeller Center, the ice is almost ready. Ted, the Zamboni driver, dressed in a red and black uniform, glides over and over the rink until it takes on a lustrous sheen. Next to the rink, the benches for onlookers smell like fresh paint. A little boy in a blue jacket observes the process, then goes up to people, saying, “You know, ice skating really isn’t safe,” as his mother attempts to hush him up. But there is little need for him to worry. Golfing resulted in more injuries than skating – 33,101 versus 20,443 in 2013, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Now New Yorkers and tourists alike can go ice skating on Rockefeller Center’s fabled rink, which reopened for business on Oct. 10. With short waiting lines, balmy weather, and a small crowd – mostly New Yorkers – the rink opening in early October remains a well-kept secret. Anyone can skate from 8:30 a.m. to midnight; the cost of admission is $25 per adult until November, when prices rise to $27, then up to $32 during peak holiday season. Children under 11 pay less – $15 all season – but skate rentals cost an extra $12 for everyone.

“I have been doing the opening for three years,” said Arelis D., a rink employee who didn’t want to disclose her full name. Arelis operates the ticket booth and said there is no crushing mob of tourists yet. Indeed, people associate Rockefeller Center’s ice skating rink with winter, because of its famous Christmas tree, which has gone up every year in December since 1933.

The ice is nearly ready after having been smoothed by the Zamboni driver. Photo: Laurence Bekk-Day

The ice rink, freshly cleaned and resurfaced. Photo: Laurence Bekk-Day.

A few days after the opening, passersby were surprised the rink had opened. “They already have the ice down?” said Thomas Gamba, who has lived in New York for three years. The warm weather this month added a somewhat surprising twist. The temperatures hit 72 degrees, and skaters, with no gloves or hats, glided past the rink’s golden statue, Prometheus.

For the more formal opening on Oct. 13, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, both 2014 Olympic champions, officially kicked off skating season by performing to Florence + The Machine’s hit song, Dog Days Are Over. Like last year, young girls from Figure Skating in Harlem, an after-school program for girls aged 6 to 18, joined the Olympic gold medalists on the ice.

The ice rink, which is 5,400 square feet, will celebrate its 80th birthday next year. It has been prominently featured in movies such as “Six Weeks,” and in classic novels like “The Catcher in the Rye.” The rink has also become a popular spot for proposals, and is frequently listed as one of New York’s most popular engagement spots. Rockefeller Center even offers proposal packages, starting at $925, which allow an allotted time where the ice rink is exclusively booked for a couple.

Tanja Hokum, a spokesperson for Rockefeller Center, said “over 250,000 people are expected this year,” while there is a limit to the number of skaters allowed on the rink at one time. “Just 150 skaters, to create a more intimate experience,” she said.

On the ice, Mushim, who only goes by his nickname, donned a striped suit and a Panama hat. He looked like an old crooner as he expertly performed twist-like moves for the guys and under-arm turns with the girls. “I’ve been coming here for 25 years,” he said. He explained his reason for coming back, year after year, with one word: ice-skating makes him “happy!”

As the background music switched from a vintage Michael Jackson classic to ABBA’s Voulez-vous, a couple tentatively tottered on the rink. “You just paid 25 dollars; you’re going to be fine,” said the woman, holding on to her anxious skating partner. Ted, the Zamboni driver, who also doubles as a winter version of a lifeguard, saw them struggling and doled out his best advice to beginners clutching the railing. “Bend your knees!”

Most rinks in New York will be open by the end of October, with cooler temperatures expected. The Wollman Rink in Central Park reopens this Saturday, Oct. 24, with an admission fee for adults ranging from $11.25 to $18.00. On Friday, Oct. 30, the Winter Village rink at Bryant Park, sponsored by Bank of America, will also reopen and admission is free.