By Indrek Kongats

I make no bones about being Canadian and growing up in a land where hockey is considered the national sport expected to be played by every able-bodied citizen as soon as they are old enough to walk. This successful hockey craze is fueled by the fact that every small town in the North Country has an ice skating rink, usually within walking distance of the local school. After school and weekend trips to the ice rink are as normal to these young kids and their families as are walks in the park.

Ice skating doesn’t need to lead to hockey, although it is a great game to play. Skating in itself is an excellent sport—exhilarating, fast and almost dance-like in its flowing motion and movements. Ice skating is a great family activity and if you start early enough, it becomes as natural and easy as riding a bicycle. The only way to do that is to make regular trips to an ice skating rink.

Unfortunately since moving to Ellicottville almost 20 years ago, I have seen the demise of many great local ice skating venues, including one that once was right here in the village park. Making ice is expensive and difficult and the only real way to guarantee a good ice surface is to build an indoor ice skating arena. On the flip side, skating on an outdoor rink, frozen pond, lake or creek is how the sport got started and still to this day is the only way to skate for many people.

One of my favorite places to skate was in Salamanca on the Bill Flanigan outdoor rink located on Fawn Avenue on the city’s south side. This historical rink has been in existence since the 1920, but due to poor winter weather conditions these past several years, its future is in doubt. It was last opened in January 2010 when it was open for only 32 days, but received an incredible 2000 skaters. The rink is now under the direction of the Seneca Nation and hopefully it may be resurrected.

Fortunately, there is a new kid on the block and that is the Ice at Canalside, which is well within a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive with the whole family. Located on the canal on Buffalo’s downtown waterfront, this venue is soon to be recognized as one on the country’s premier ice skating destinations and on the bucket list of all devotee steel bladders. Although still weather dependent, as is any outdoor rink, it does offer fixed hours: Sunday, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday, 3 p.m. – 7 p.m., Thursday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m, Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. Special weekday hours will also be in effect during school break weeks.

Admission is free for children 5 and under, $4 for ages 6-12 and only $6 for all others. You can even rent skates for $5 and if you need to store your gear or a lunch, you can even rent a locker for only $3.

Just north of Springville, in the town of East Aurora, lies another ice skating venue, but this one is a step closer to being climate controlled or at least a little less weather dependent. According to information on their website at, “On January 1, 2008, history was made in Buffalo, NY, as Ralph Wilson Stadium hosted the first-ever outdoor NHL game in the United States. The Winter Classic put the Buffalo Sabres up against the Pittsburgh Penguins before record-setting crowd of 71,217. The Aurora Ice Association purchased the ice-making equipment from the NHL, and with the support of hundreds of passionate volunteers, private donations and corporate support, a tribute to this historic event is nestled in the Village of East Aurora.”

The Healthy Zone Rink opened in the fall of 2008, the venue added a pavilion-style roof, locker rooms and a warming hut for guests. The ice rink runs at full capacity from October through March (winter season) and is located at 41 Riley Street in East Aurora. Winter public skating hours are: Fridays, 7:00-8:45 p.m., Saturday 1-2:20 p.m. And 7-8:45 p.m. and Sundays 1 -2:20 p.m.

The admission to the Healthy Zone Rink is only $5, children 4 and under are free with a paying adult. You can rent skates for just $3 or have your own sharpened for $6.

Finally, close to Ellicottville and within an easy 40 minute drive in the direction of Olean is the William O. Smith Arena, located at 551 E State St. This is the one I use the most often because it is a fully enclosed ice skating venue—regardless of what Mother Nature throws at us any given day, the ice is always in good condition here.

Scheduled hours for public skating are as follows: Monday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 3:30 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 3:30 to 5 p.m., Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 1:30 to 3 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.

The admission price is only $2 for children and senior citizens, $4 for adults and $3 for students with ID. The great thing about this rink is that it has a family pass for $10 and even offers season long passes for a little as $80. Skate rental is only $2 and sharpening is $5.