“Girl, check your email and sign up for ice skating with us!” These were the first words that came out of my friend’s mouth when I opened the door to her familiar rat-tat-tat on Valentine’s Day. Having arrived on campus 10 days previously, amidst heightened Covid restrictions back home and a blizzard in New York State, the lack of COVID-safe activities and social interaction on campus were starting to make the days blur into one. As an exciting alternative to countless mundane walks on the Ecological Preserve, the ice rink offered a twofold attraction: a chance to safely socialize and the opportunity to break out those Bambi-like leg actions in front of your crush.
After having booked a mid-afternoon skating session, reasoning that we would get the best of the winter sun, we arrived at Walker Field House in high spirits, excited for our foray on the “ice.” I was initially surprised by the material of the rink; of course I had known that it wouldn’t be real ice but somehow hadn’t expected the large jigsaw-like pieces of plastic that made the rink look akin to the soft, indoor play areas that were the love of my childhood—and the bane of my parents! Whilst lacing up the skates, which are provided and thoroughly disinfected after each use, it felt surreal that the last time I had taken to the ice, I hadn’t given two thoughts about the unhygienic aspect of sharing shoes with hundreds of other people. The heightened awareness of sanitation is definitely one thing we have to thank COVID for!
I have learned to be wary when stepping onto the ice from the side, having ended up on the bitingly cold surface a few too many times to leave my pride intact. Yet on this ice rink, I could easily walk over the tiles without the slightest hint of slippage, even getting so bold as to shimmy across at one point. As Weipeng Xie, ’21, the president of Vassar’s ice-skating organization Iced Brew explained, “The physics of [this synthetic ice] and the experience is unique and different, but it is somewhat comparable to regular ice skating. In particular, the physical demand and balance are very similar. From an experienced skater’s perspective, the plastic surface does not allow for a smooth glide, and the dullness of the provided skates do not have enough of an edge to transfer the energy into the ice. From a beginner’s perspective, the experience will actually be easier and less challenging than learning how to skate on real ice, because it is a more frictional surface and less cold on the hands if they do fall.” There is a definite appeal to the synthetic ice, as the stability of the skates make you feel less precariously balanced.
Clèlia Delevoye ’21 a fellow exchange student, admitted to being a little disappointed with the rink: “It was a lot smaller than I had imagined, and actually getting the flow of skating was harder than on real ice.” However, Delevoye added, “After a couple of tough weeks, with the campus cases rising and all the anxiety that it brought, it was fun to get outside.” Robin Bleicher, ’23, similarly enthused, “My favorite part about the ice rink was having an excuse to get outside with friends for an activity!”
Xie’s sage advice definitely epitomizes my approach to the ice rink: “At the end of the day, it does not matter if it is real ice or synthetic ice, the most important thing is that both facilitate a positive and stress-relieving environment that is invaluable in this uncertain time.”
Since the rink’s opening, Iced Brew has taken advantage of the synthetic ice rink, scheduling popular Learn to Skate and Open Sessions for the next three Friday evenings, with their experienced skaters on hand for advice on twirling and technique. Xie expressed his sadness about the impact of COVID on Iced Brew and the opportunities they normally offer to the student body: “Thursday night ice skating is a huge part of the student weeknight activities [at Vassar] and so many students look forward to it during the semester. As an org, [this year] we are unable to provide the opportunity for the student body to try ice skating for the first time, or practice their skating skills.” But the salience of having an outlet for stress-relief, an opportunity that Iced Brew normally offers with their Thursday night skating, became clear last semester with the chronicled deterioration of student mental health. It appears that the college is searching for innovative ways to encourage COVID-safe interactions as a way to ease stress and foster a sense of community.
The ice rink facility also hosted a skating-centered event last Saturday evening, dubbed Vassar On Ice. The night promised further opportunity for lively entertainment and boogying fun, with four student DJs showcasing their talents throughout the night. With Asian-fusion food catered by Twisted Soul, the ice rink presented a hub for (socially distanced) congregation and a tangible sense of community that is hard to find at Vassar at the moment. The evening was a sliver of normality in an abnormal, uncertain world, and I am planning to return for the chance to get outside, see my friends and do something that wasn’t available last semester.