The joyous freedom of winter on skates

Karen Wils photo My kids back in the good old days on the ice.

ESCANABA — Take a long, cool glide in the winter air!

Feel the freedom.

Combine ice with youth and that should conjure up memories of hand-me-down ice skates and skating outside on the pond or lake.

Decades ago almost every Yooper kid had a spot to skate on a rink or a river.

My family skated at the Webster Ice Rink in north Escanaba.

Occasionally, when the freezing conditions cooperated, I skated along the banks of the Escanaba River near our camp.

If we had a week of single-digit temps before we got a foot of snow, the slow waters by the river’s edge would freeze into a smooth sheet of ice. To a teenager with lots of time and energy, skating in the wild was wonderful!

You could ride the north wind or you could confront it by skating straight into it. It was almost like dancing on air until your blade hit a little spot of limestone sticking out of the ice. The spills and the chills were all a part of the fun back in those days.

My dad grew up in Gladstone, and therefore, he was introduced to ice skating on the ice up at the head of the bay. He would tell stories of stuffing rags into a pair of skates to make them fit and skating on “rubber ice” so clear that you could see the minnows scooting around beneath you!

Dad went on to skate for the Gladstone Indians hockey team back in the heyday of adult teams for U.P. towns. Because of Dad’s love for hockey, he’d often take us to the ice rink when we were kids.

My uncle Alan would come skating too, with more cousins to play tag with on the ice. Then the racing would begin. The fastest skater would be called the Peter Dube (a Michigan speed skating champion) of the day.

When my two children were small, we took them to the Webster Ice Rink on winter nights. I can still remember the rosy red wind-burned cheeks and the hot cocoa treats that followed.

My youngsters also had “ice time” in the woods where we went to run our beagle dogs. A couple of frozen ponds made for hours of enjoyment on the ice. It was important to remember to take the little shovel to clean the snow off of the ice from time to time.

Youth and ice are a wonderful mixture. The Escanaba area has such a rich ice skating history going way back to the 1940s and ’50s, when it put on one of the biggest ice shows in the country according to “Life Magazine.”

In that famous magazine article, it talked about the Escanaba kids even skating in the streets of their hometown.

Times have changed, and the world is a little warmer. Most kids play hockey or figure skate indoors nowadays. The skates and the equipment is so much improved from the 1960s.

But if you get a chance some winter day… if you find a safe frozen puddle… don’t pass up the chance to skate in the wild!

The Zamboni machine makes some great ice, but so can Mr. Winter!

Be safe, be warm.


Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong north Escanaba resident. Her folksy columns appear weekly in Lifestyles.