Skating to Profits
Ice skating rinks are turning into major profits in the oddest of places; warm weather climates. Here’s how hotels are turning the experience into cold cash.
Friday, January 24, 2014
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By the silken sand and sea that is the calling card of the Ocean City, Maryland shoreline, visitors rarely have trouble finding beachfront things to do: They swim. Hear a concert. Attend an outdoor movie. Work on their tans.
And they lace up their skates and take to the ice -- especially between June 15 and August 15, when the mid-Atlantic summer broils its hottest.
Ice-skating is a year-round staple at the Carousel Hotel, where a beachfront rink, enclosed in an atrium, has been as nearly constant a presence near the sand as beach umbrellas, chairs and sun lotion since the 1970s, said Lindy Kosydar, the hotel's director of operations and marketing.
The hotel maintains a crew of 8 to 10 for the rink area during the busy summer months. Best of all, said Kosydar, “when it's 95 outside you can still come and skate inside."
Although hotels and resorts customarily offer recreational water in a more fluid and welcoming form – in their indoor and outdoor pools - the Carousel is one of a number of skate-minded hotels around the country that considers a rink one of the best kinds of frozen assets. At the Carousel, that’s especially true between July 4 and the third week in August, which marks peak season.
The heat of summer often finds guests retreating to the sidelines, however, deferring to the pros who make their living dancing on glaciers. Ice shows, performed by a Baltimore-based company, The Next Ice Age, command the stage regularly in summer. "It's well-attended," Kosydar said, "Everyone stands around the rink. It's in the middle of the hotel so people can even sit on their balconies and watch the show."
On the opposite coast, beachfront skating has been a nine-year tradition at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego – but only for the winter holiday season.
“We convert the Windsor lawn, the center piece between the beach and our historic Victorian building, into a rink and offer skating to hotel guests and visitors,” said Lauren Ash Donoho, public relations director. “They love it. It has gained quite a reputation and people are excited to come.” Proceeds from the two-hour skating session are donated to charity, she said.
And the guests get the best of summer and winter combined. “There is no cooler place than skating on the beach. I think you get the best of both worlds. We have gorgeous weather, so you see people skating in shorts – and the one thing we have seen an increase in, which is very cool, is proposals on the rink. We’ve kind of gotten that romantic side going as well as the family side going.
“But the beauty is this, you are outdoors and skating and you may or may not even need a jacket, depending on what time of day you are skating.”
But there are times that even ice-skating sessions themselves need to be put on ice:
"We closed the rink today and tomorrow because we have staff we can't keep warm outside," said Susan Ellefson, director of public relations for the Peninsula Chicago, speaking in early January as the notorious polar vortex gripped that city and much of the nation. "We need to make it suitable. No one is going to skate in this weather," she said.
For the record, the outdoor temperature, with wind chill, was a bone-chilling minus 41 on that particular day. That made it even too much for the skaters’ ice -- which, in fact, is not frozen water at all but a blade-friendly synthetic material. Ironically, that likely made the Peninsula’s outdoor terrace rink one of the few spots in the Windy City that actually wasn't frozen.
It’s a surface that thrives in unseasonably warm weather, said Ellefson. “That is why we got it. Because when we had some quite warm winter last year, when it was in the 80s in early March, this surface worked. You can have this in the desert, you can have it indoors, it is a really good surface for learning on because it is not real slippery.”
Ellefson said that seasonal skating, which runs from Thanksgiving through early March, charges modest fees that help fund donations to a number of local charities, and the hotel is pleased that this year marks the rink’s first full season of operation. Plans include a promotional event with “Disney On Ice” and, said Ellefson, “we see great opportunities for Valentine’s Day. We have already had people propose on the rink or celebrate that they just got engaged. They get engaged inside and then they say, ‘Let’s go skating.’ ”
At the Standard, High Line Hotel in Manhattan, the recreational skating season ends in January, but not before the outdoor rink has concluded its popular hockey tournament, playfully dubbed “What the Puck?” Local teams, representing area businesses and neighbors, do friendly battle on Saturdays as guests and the public watch, rink side. This year’s tournaments – the fourth season for the hotel - actually extend the ice season a bit, to Feb. 8, which is the date for division finals.
“The rink has become a bit of a staple. People look forward to it coming up and start asking about it,” said hotel spokeswoman Christina Daniels. Food & Beverage staffers operate an Alpine Kaffeeklatsch concession when there are open skating hours, she said, serving spiked hot cocoa, crepes, fondue and other refreshments. The hotel also makes skating instructors available to those who request lessons.
But like snow and ice itself, it doesn’t last. “I think part of the fun is that it is only during the winter,” she said. “That way, people look forward to it, and we can use the space for other things during the summer.”