B y the time March rolls around, most of us are thinking spring. The promise of a return to fair weather seems increasingly tantalizing now that the sun is shining well past 6 p.m., thanks in no small part to Daylight Saving Time on Sunday.
Or maybe now is just the right time to rejoice in the spirit of winter. Complex and unexpected city that it is, New Haven offers a chance to participate in a classic cold-weather activity even after spring has officially sprung.
The city-owned Ralph Walker Skating Rink stays open until the end of March, offering public skating sessions on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 12 to 1:30 pm, as well as Friday evening sessions from 8 to 9:20 p.m. Weekend public skates run from 12 to 1:20 p.m. and 6 to 7:30 p.m.
You won’t pay much for a spin—and hopefully not too many falls—on the ice. New Haven adults only pay $4, and it’s $3 for under-18ers; for non-residents the prices jump just a buck higher. There’s also a universal senior fee of $3, and skate rentals are $4. Hockey enthusiasts can join regularly scheduled “stick time” and pick-up hockey games at $10 a session (usually in the evening; check the website for details).
Linda Chicoine, who manages the rink, confirms that March is a great time to visit. Traffic tends to dwindle as folks move from a winter- to spring-sport mindset, leaving hockey pucks and sticks behind in favor of soccer balls and tennis rackets. In short, there’s more room to glide at the Rink.
And to breathe, too. Although it has a roof to protect from rain or snow, the Ralph Walker Rink is open-air. (A compressor keeps the ice floor solid despite rising temperatures outside.) The fresh air isn’t the only invigorating factor; music plays during public skate sessions.
Still, chances are decent that this month has plenty of chills left to deliver, and the indoor facility adjacent to the rink is a great place to warm up. Every day, the Zamboni driver on duty is responsible for building the fire that roars during open hours; nearby wooden benches and picnic tables are a great spot for sipping a hot chocolate (vending machines provide that, as well as other drinks, snacks and ice cream) and warming your toes.
“We try to be a community place where people can come and do a winter activity. It’s a very family-oriented atmosphere,” says Chris Bartlett. While the city owns the rink, which has been open since the late 1960s, it’s run by Rink Management Solutions, which Bartlett co-owns; Linda Chicoine is an employee.
The two have known each other since the sixth grade, when they both lived in North Haven, and have been close since. Chicoine says she’s an enthusiastic skater, though Bartlett may be the more serious skater of the two; he competed in Olympic-eligible men’s figure skating, was in Disney on Ice for five years and has coached skating students for over a quarter-century. He still coaches (including for Chicoine’s daughter) in addition to running the business.
Even this late in the season, you might catch some advanced skaters practicing their double Axels at the skating rink, as well as plenty of beginners gathered around the sides before shakily making their way around the ice. Either way, a good skate is the perfect way to say goodbye to winter.
Ralph Walker Ice Skating Rink
1080 State St., New Haven
Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.