Ice skating: Fun for all ages

Published 3:08 pm Friday, December 13, 2013

Skaters enjoy the Howard Ice Rink in St. Joseph. Photo by Jill McCaughan

Skaters enjoy the Howard Ice Rink in St. Joseph. Photo by Jill McCaughan

Winters in Michiana can seem to last forever, but that’s no reason to stay cooped up inside — with or without the kids. Ice skating provides one way to get outside, burn off some energy, learn new skills, and just have some fun in the wintertime.

“It’s good aerobic exercise, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of equipment, like skiing or some other sports do. You can just show up in jeans, a sweatshirt and a coat, and you can rent the skates from us. Or, you can bring your own,” said Molly Mahoney, programming and instruction intern at Notre Dame’s Compton Family Ice Arena.

Compton provides various times throughout the week when the public can come to skate. They also offer skating lessons for would-be skaters of all ages. For the youngest level, they offer a “My Tot & Me” program on Wednesday mornings, catering specifically to two- and three-year-olds and their parents.

For older children and adults, Compton has Wednesday evening classes that last for eight weeks per session. Four or five sessions are offered throughout each year, and a new session will begin on Jan. 15. More information on their different programs can be obtained at or by calling (574) 631-8760. Compton also offers hockey leagues and figure skating classes.

For some residents of Michiana, the drive to South Bend can be a long one in the winter, and there are not many options for formal skating lessons nearby, but there are alternatives that can still help novices get started on the ice.

“The Howard Ice Rink is owned by the residents of the city,” said Susan Solon, director of marketing and communications for the City of St. Joseph, Mich. “It offers a professional hockey-sized rink that is open for public skating seven days a week during the winter months.”

“We don’t offer skating lessons,” said Brian Dwan, manager of the Howard Ice Arena, “but we do have skate trainers, and that helps out.”

A “skate trainer,” also known as a “chair,” is a piece of equipment that resembles a chair, and it helps to provide support for beginners who lack balance on the ice. By using a skate trainer, Liam Jones, age 10, of Berrien Springs, Mich., learned to skate at Howard.

“I came here with my aunt, my uncle, my cousin, and my mom, and I basically learned to ice skate that day, and now, I’ve been skating for about six years,” he said.

Jared Browne’s daughter, Harmonee, learned the same way.

“We’re Canadians,” said Browne, who is currently attending graduate school at Andrews University. “Harmonee learned when she was two or three, with a chair, and we went all the time. That’s the time to start them—when they are young like that. Then, their ankles get used to skating.”

Public skating hours at the Howard Ice Rink are Mondays and Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Fridays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays from 6 to 10 p.m. and Sundays from 2 to 6 p.m. The rink can be reached at (269) 983-9795.

Another option for younger children is offered by the Berrien Area Hockey Association (BAHA) at the Howard Ice Rink. Their “Learn to Play Hockey” class teaches four- to eight-year-olds how to skate, along with the basics of hockey. A new session begins in mid-January, and information on that program can be found at

“The little kids are all dressed up in hockey gear, and they go out on the rink and learn to skate and play hockey for an hour on Saturday mornings. It’s kind of neat to watch because they’re all bundled up, and they’ll fall down, but they pop right back up, and they don’t even feel  it,” Dwan said, of the youngest hockey players.

And, while skating can simply provide a fun afternoon in the winter for some residents of Michiana, for others, ice skating can add a whole new dimension to their lives.

“My son just loves to be on the ice. It’s his passion. There’s just great camaraderie with the kids out there,” said Jim Reits, a board member and the registrar for BAHA. “He gets to play hockey with kids from all over that he wouldn’t meet otherwise.”