Skaters take to the ice in Baton Rouge

Skaters take to the ice in Baton Rouge; event runs through Jan. 5

“My hands freeze like an ice cube when I fall. I love skating because I just love it.” Gibson Pitalo, 6

As 6-year-old Gibson Pitalo rounded the final turn at the Baton Rouge River Center’s ice skating rink on Saturday morning, he felt more confident than he did when first stepped onto the ice about an hour earlier.

He shuffled his feet in short, choppy steps along the boards — but did not hold onto them — as his mother, Lindsey Pitalo, 31, waited for him near the entrance to the ice.

“It does get easier,” Lindsey Pitalo, of Prairieville, said as she watched her son glide toward her.

Gibson fell twice but said he wasn’t hurt by either fall.

“My hands freeze like an ice cube when I fall,” he said excitedly. “I love skating because I just love it.”

On a rainy Saturday morning, the Pitalo family was among a small group to visit the River Center for Skating on the River, an annual event that gives people an opportunity to ice skate in the arena during the holidays.

Since it began more than 20 years ago, Skating on the River has become a Christmas tradition for some area families.

River Center officials opened up the arena to skating on Dec. 20 and it will continue daily until Jan. 5.

The 75-minute sessions cost $12 per person and include skate rentals and a drink. Hours are generally 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, officials said.

About 20 to 25 skaters took part in the first session of the day. Some made several laps around the rink without falling while others were not so lucky.

Some youngsters held onto their parent or parents while trying not to fall, while others gripped the boards tightly all the way around the rink, holding on as tightly as a trapeze artist grips the bar.

Many of the parents struggled to keep their balance as well in the 85-foot by 185-foot rink.

Pitalo said she and Gibson skated a few years ago with other family members, but Saturday was the first time going with her husband, daughter and niece.

She and her niece moved around the arena with Gibson while her husband and daughter skated together around the boards. She said ice skating is a good experience for her children in an area rarely touched by snow.

“We just like to have fun with the kids,” Pitalo said.

The River Center employs ice moderators and instructors, like Sue Coates, who enforce the rules on the ice while offering tips to the novices on how to skate and how to fall without causing an injury.

“I tell them to tuck their chin in and land on where God gave you padding,” said Coates, who has taught ice skating and ice dancing in Baton Rouge and Lafayette for 16 years.

She said moderators generally see the same families come back year after year and they usually see improvement from people, especially children who come back.

River Center officials said it takes about three days to build the ice by pouring layers of water on the floor on top of giant chillers that keep the ice at about 18 degrees Fahrenheit.

During evening sessions, the ice can get crowded with more than 200 people of all ages and skill levels trying to navigate their way around the rink, avoiding colliding with each other and Santa Claus and the collection of Christmas trees at center ice.

One group that was happy for the sparsely filled rink Saturday morning was Summer Holliday, 36, of Madisonville, her daughter Lauryn Holliday, 7, and friend Luci James, 7, with her mother.

Holliday said the girls skated at The Galleria in Houston recently and loved it, so when she learned that the River Center had ice skating, it was a no-brainer to make the drive to Baton Rouge.

She said a roller skating rink in Madisonville used to host ice skating, but no longer does and Baton Rouge was the closest place they could find.

The quartet attended two back-to-back sessions Saturday.

Holliday said the girls were excited to hit the ice again and constantly asked when they were going.

“That’s all I heard last night and the night before and the night before,” she said.