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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 12/ 4/2008

Ice Skating in Washington

By Kevin Ambrose

* Turning Colder: Full Forecast | Snow Lover's Crystal Ball | SkinsCast *

Ice skating on the Reflecting Pool, circa 1918. Source: "Washington Weather."

The Washington area offers a nice selection of indoor and outdoor ice skating rinks for the novice skater to the serious hockey player. It's fortunate that we have the rinks since our recent mild winters have not given us much of an opportunity to take to our local ponds or rivers for skating pleasure.

Decades ago, when winters were colder and artificially chilled rinks were not around, the Reflecting Pool and Potomac River were the places to skate for Washingtonians.

Keep reading for more ice skating photos from the past, and a few of my own ice skating stories...

Ice skating on the Potomac River or a local creek, circa 1912. Source: "Washington Weather."

As a kid, I learned how to ice skate on the Occoquan River and several local ponds. It seemed that most winters provided ample opportunities for skating. I remember on Christmas Day 1976 taking my cousins down to the river to skate while we waited for our Christmas dinner to be prepared. During the next winter, my friends and I worked feverishly during a snowstorm to shovel snow from an ice skating rink that we had created on a local pond. We would take turns shoveling, ice skating, then sledding, back-and-forth, for hours. The storm that buried Boston in 27 inches of snow, but gave the D.C. area only four to six inches of wind-blown snow.

My most vivid ice skating memory is from January 13, 1982. School was canceled that day due to a heavy snowstorm and I quickly made plans to meet a friend to skate on the river. All morning, we skated on a half-mile stretch of ice while the snow fell quite heavily. The snow was very powdery and our skates would cut through it with little resistance. It seemed like the perfect day until I arrived home that afternoon and my parents were watching the coverage of the Air Florida Crash. The jet had crashed into the 14th Street Bridge and plunged into the ice-covered Potomac River below. We stayed glued to the TV set for hours, watching the rescue effort that ensued. That day will always be burned into my memory.

Ice skating on the Potomac River, January 1977. Source: "Washington Weather."

Our recent winters have not provided the same opportunities to ice skate as I experienced when I was a kid. Today, I have my own kids, but I know that I would never let them roam the rivers and ponds unsupervised, even if the winters were colder and the ice was thick. Times were different back then, both for winter weather and for parenting. For now, I'll just plan to frequent the local rinks, though I'm still hoping for one of those historic winters of the past!

By Kevin Ambrose  | December 4, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Photography  
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Where can I get my skates sharpened in the DC area?

Posted by: ah___ | December 4, 2008 11:37 AM | Report abuse

During some of our recent winters, the C & O Canal has provided some fabulous skating opportunities...i believe it was the winter of 06-07 when the "Widewater" section of the canal was packed with happy skaters! we have high hopes for winter of 08-09!

Posted by: rivergirl1 | December 4, 2008 1:06 PM | Report abuse

I got my 1st skates in the late 50's & remember ice skating all thru the 60's, 70's & some in the 80's. I managed Fountainhead Park on the Occoquan Res. from 78-94 & skated on it most winters until the late 80's. It would completely freeze over almost every winter until the late 80's, but now the ice on most ponds doesn't get thick enough 2 skate on. In 77 the ice on the upper end of the res. was 15" thick & there was ice in some of the coves until early March. Wonder what the reason is for less ice, could it be Global Warming?

Posted by: VaTechBob | December 4, 2008 2:45 PM | Report abuse

I remember hearing a story a few years ago about a Bethesda resident who commutes to his job in Georgetown by ice skating down the C&O Canal. That sure beats biking on slippery streets!

The first time I saw the Potomac freeze over since I've been in D.C. was winter of '06-'07 (if I remember correctly)...a beautiful sight, but I sure wouldn't trust it enough to ice skate on it.

Posted by: Ann-CapitalWeatherGang | December 4, 2008 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Ann, the last time the Potomac froze over was Jan 04. I wasn't able 2 striper fish at the 301 Bridge power plant discharge 4 about 10 days. Dec of 06 was 4.7 degrees above average & Jan 07 was 5.8 degrees above average, Feb was colder than average but not enough 4 the river 2 have more than a thin coat of ice at best.

Posted by: VaTechBob | December 4, 2008 5:33 PM | Report abuse

Going back through my photo records, I see that on February 17, 2007 the Potomac River had a thin coating of ice. Further back, on January 22, 2004 and January 31, 2004, I have photos of the Potomac River frozen and the Chesapeake Bay shoreline frozen. Ice skating on the river would have been possible in January 2004.

Posted by: Kevin-CapitalWeatherGang | December 4, 2008 8:42 PM | Report abuse

As a historic side-note, soldiers of the 12th Mississippi Regiment camped along the Occoquan River during the winter of 1861-62 learned how to ice skate on the river before retreating to Fredericksburg, at the start of the Civil War. Later in the Civil War, a Confederate prisoner was reported to have escaped a Union POW camp in Maryland by ice skating across the Potomac River to Virginia.

Posted by: Kevin-CapitalWeatherGang | December 4, 2008 9:29 PM | Report abuse

When I was growing up in the 70s, my brother and I made a skating rink in the back yard. (This was Chicago.) What an awesome time. My parents still remember the number it did on the lawn the next spring.

Posted by: mmurphy70 | December 5, 2008 12:44 AM | Report abuse

Back in 1994, we had an amazing ice storm that allowed us to ice skate the fairways of the local golf course in Fairfax. Downhill ice skating was a lot of fun but a bit scary. Every once in a while our skates would break through the ice which would flip us to the ground. That was the downside.

Posted by: Kevin-CapitalWeatherGang | December 5, 2008 4:35 AM | Report abuse

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