Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Local skating

Last month I wrote about the joys of a small local ski hill. This month I'm writing about local skating, my memories of Danvers ponds where we skated as kids, and my current experiences skating outdoors in a local park where I now live.  See The joys of ice skating outdoors (posted online Jan 31).

A video of ice hockey at the Meadows was posted this weekend on the Danvers Herald (wicked local) website. I'm happy to see that outdoor skating is still a real option in Danvers. I gather from comments I've seen on Facebook that many people have skated at the Meadows for years, and have fond memories of their times there.

My memories are of other locations in Danvers: the small pond by our house in the Hathorne section of town, the Ice Pond on Ferncroft Road, and a frozen wetlands area beyond the old railroad line near Maple Street. (I think the latter may now be called the Laboa Swamp and/or College Pond, though I don't recall any name for it; my parents took me there because they liked the larger spaces for hockey games.)

For the first time in over 50 years, I have a brand new pair of ice skates. In December I rented skates at a local park, but they weren't feeling right. The discomfort around my ankles discouraged me from skating for very long. I also wanted to be free to skate outdoors even when the park rental office was closed. So I walked into a sporting goods store and asked about skates. The first store didn't sell skates, but I lucked out at the next store. They only had a few pairs, but one was appropriate for me. I was surprised to discover that recreational figure skates cost less than my typical walking shoes. I'd never actually bought skates before. About time! (My only previous new pair had been bought for me – "large enough to grow into" – by my parents, when I was young; those skates never quite fit correctly, though I did continue to use them for years. Then I moved to sunny CA and forgot about skating.)

I'm thrilled with a new skating opportunity in my current community. It isn't a rink, and it isn't a pond. It's a "skating path" created on flat ground, with refrigeration embedded below ground. Water is sprayed on the surface to create the ice we skate on.

Curves add character to the path, which is 300 feet long. Birch trees in the landscaping add interest. I love skating there.

Here are a few photos of the skating path, taken in December, both daytime and a night.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Liability concerns

I'm shaking my head over an Associated Press article in today's newspaper: "Liability concerns prompt some cities to limit sledding."  Some cities in Iowa and elsewhere have been closing sledding hills because of demands of insurance companies and fear of lawsuits.  Good grief!

Sledding was such a part of our life in Danvers.  Sledding, skating, and skiing.  All these winter activities carry risks, of course.  But to shut down a sledding or skiing hill seems the wrong approach. It would be better to post "Sled at your own risk" and "Ski at your own risk" signs, and let the fun continue.

I think there is a greater risk to our health (both physical and mental health) in prohibiting these activities. We'll create a society of stay-at-home, inactive people. It is healthy to go out in the cold and exercise, and to experience the thrills of near-misses, and to learn to get up from the inevitable spills and falls. Each one of us ought to accept responsibility for our own actions, and learn from our mistakes.

Those are my thoughts as I react to the newspaper article.  I'm biased, of course, because of wonderful childhood experiences on the frozen hills and ponds of Danvers, and my love for the Locust Lawn Ski Club (see my previous post), which ultimately was run out of business by the prohibitive cost of liability insurance.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Local ski hill

This is the local ski hill in my memories of Danvers. This is where I learned to ski. This is where I skied for years and years with family and friends.

I love this 1954 photo, which captured the scene very well. The photographer (David Brewster) was standing on the flat area at the top of the slope – the place where we started each downhill run.  Last year his son Dave digitized his father's old slides and shared this with me. Such memories!

The rope tow ran along the right side of the open slope. In the photo I can see (faintly) a few bodies coming up that tow, and I know that the little figures at the bottom of the hill are approaching the rope and getting ready for the up-hill ride.  The rope tow engine was, in those days, a Model T Ford that sat in a shed at the top of the hill, behind and to the right of this photographer.

The view here is eastward, towards (unseen in the distance) Summer Street in north Danvers. On the right in the distance would be the St. John's Preparatory School property; on the left, Bishop's Meadow. By 1971, bulldozers and other large earth-movers were re-shaping this landscape, preparing to build Route I-95.

This ski slope disappeared in the construction.  In fact (I discovered today while staring at a Google map of the area) I-95 now runs right through this location, though hundreds of feet lower. Much of the hill, containing good gravel, was re-distributed elsewhere, leaving behind a valley and a much steeper slope on what was left of the old hill. That new slope dropped 300 feet, my father said. He attempted to ski there, but highway officials discouraged the practice.

What hill was this?  We called it "Locust Lawn" because of the old estate that had once been built there. Some people called it "Nichols Hill" because so many generations of our family had lived on or near it. Older maps mark it as "Dale's Hill," probably for a similar reason. Today the fragment of it that remains is called "Conifer Hill."

Update: On Thursday December 11, 2014, the Danvers Herald published my column about skiing on this hill. The online version was posted December 14. See  Remembering Danvers: When family ran local ski hill.