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Icing on the Park

While summer drives most children to beaches and pools for refuge from the sweltering heat, 7-year-old Ethan Cutler prefers to cool off on the ice and allow his skates to bask in the summer limelight.

"I think that the ice skating rink is better than the pool, because it's colder,” said Cutler. “The ice rink you can go to in the winter and the summer or whenever you want.”

Available to the public year-round, Cabin John Ice Rink provides Cutler and other skaters the opportunity to extend a typical winter activity into the warmer months.

"That's what makes it fun, it's something different," said Daniel Amer, a counselor who treated his campers to a day out at the rink. "You wouldn't expect to do something like ice skating in the summer, but because you have this opportunity with Cabin John and it's available to the public, it's something nice to do."

While the summer is sure to attract skaters seeking alternatives to activities in the heat and humidity, the wintry season is when the facility receives its largest crowds. Although the rink does not experience a genuine off-season, the colder conditions make the months between November and February the most popular, with group lesson sessions filled to capacity, said Facility Manager Christy Barbour.

As one of two enclosed ice rinks operated by the Montgomery County Park and Planning Commission (the other is in Wheaton) Cabin John's rink is a popular center for an assortment of activities throughout the year. "We have something for everyone. It's a place where people of any age or nationality can participate in a recreational sport or a leisure activity," Barbour said.

RENOVATED IN 1999, the facility offers an Olympic-sized rink, a smaller, studio-sized skating area and an NHL rink that hosts pick-up and organized hockey games.

Amer and fellow camp counselor Andrew Iszard agreed that the quality of the facility improved with the changes. "They made the ice skating rink very nice. They made another rink and a whole new building," Iszard said.

Barbour estimates that the rink receives more than 2,000 visitors daily during the peak skating season, a figure that explains why local patrons rallied for a more accommodating center. "The public demand enticed the county to build a bigger and better facility," she said. The push for changes resulted in the addition of the Olympic rink as well as an off-ice dance studio and three party rooms with space for conferences and meetings.

With the refurbishment, the facility is now home to the second-largest group lessons program in the nation. Classes are offered to both beginner and advanced skater groups, and private lessons may also be arranged with instructors. More advanced skaters may opt for lessons in freestyle, dance or "Moves in the Field," which emphasizes precision in skating movement.

The rink’s daily sessions for the general public permit skaters of all ages and experience levels to rent skates and spend time on the ice. According to Amer, novices need not be intimidated by more experienced skaters. "It's a friendly atmosphere and even beginners coming out for the first time can come out and fall and feel free and not be embarrassed," he said.

Barbour also adds that rink employees are available during public sessions to make all skaters comfortable while sharing the ice with others that have varying abilities. "There are skate guards to ensure safety and make sure it's a controlled environment," she said.

The rink’s services tend to attract younger skaters, but the facility holds family skate sessions, in which parents accompany children 12 years of age or younger, as well as adult-only times. Sessions strictly for ice dancing and freestyle are also designated during the week. Pick-up hockey sessions are for adults 18 and older while the stick and puck session is available to players of all ages.

While sessions open to the public only require an admission fee and skate rental if necessary, private ice time, such as for organized hockey, curling and figure skating, may be leased by contacting the rink. The NHL rink is smaller in dimension than the Olympic-sized rink that is normally used for figure skating and competitions, but both rinks are large enough to accommodate hockey, figure skating and public sessions.

OFF THE ICE, the center has a snack bar that offers food and beverages for in-between skating and a pro shop that sells essentials for skaters at all levels and has services such as blade mounting, custom fitting and skate sharpening available.

The facility also offers a half-day summer camp with morning and afternoon sessions for children between the ages of 5 and 12. Not limited to skating, campers also do arts and crafts and outdoor activities. "They all seem to have fun—kids like it because of the change. If they go to camps outdoors all day and then they come inside and ice skate, it's a new experience for them," Iszard said.

While the rink expects heavier traffic once the weather conditions become colder, skating on the ice appears to have greater advantages than being in the swimming pool. “It's just nice because it's a hot day out, but it’s really cold in here,” said 8-year-old Noah Elion. “It's kind of nice to be refreshed.”