Crown Center Ice Terrace – A Kansas City Tradition on Ice

The sounds of scratching metal against ice, accompanied by plenty of laughter, announce that it’s the holiday season in Kansas City once again. Crown Center’s Ice Terrace has been there for nearly half a century to help ice skaters at both the professional and novice levels enjoy every moment of it.

The ice terrace celebrates its 45th anniversary this year and, like any tradition of its size, it takes weeks or even months to prepare. In fact, from sharpening skates to cleaning the rink, crews have been hard at work since early October, preparing the terrace for friends old and new. The ice terrace itself opened for its 45th season on Nov. 3 and will remain open until March 11.

“(In Western culture), ice skating is so popular because it’s centered around the holiday theme,” says Amy Blomme, lead manager for the ice terrace. “The Christmas tree goes up, lights go up. We’re a holiday tradition for people.”

According to Oxford University, the sport of ice skating itself traces its roots back thousands of years, to Finland, where skates were merely flattened bone fragments strapped to the soles of one’s feet. Men and women didn’t actually skate over the ice, but merely glided over it. The Dutch, in the 13th century, added sharpened steel blades to the bottom of boots, allowing skaters to cut into the ice instead of merely gliding along the surface, according to OU. China introduced skating around roughly the same time.

The Dutch brought the sport to Great Britain in the mid-17th century, and skating clubs were established throughout Western Europe for the next two centuries (France’s King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were among the most well-known skating enthusiasts of the time). Those skating clubs were the precursors to the skating rinks we know and visit today.

Though little has changed since, new skaters step onto the ice terrace’s rink every winter season to learn the sport that has captured the interest of many over the years. Deb Cole-Gerber, director of the ice terrace’s skate school, has been there to help impart her love of skating to Crown Center’s newcomers. Her own passion for skating is one she’s held for nearly her entire life.

“When I was 7 years old, I was at Brownies. I had to get a badge, so I earned a skating badge,” Cole-Gerber explains. “My mom asked me, ‘Did you like that?’ I said, ‘Yeah!’  . . . and here is my career.”

Cole-Gerber has taught ice skating at the ice terrace for nearly 20 years, but she doesn’t do it alone. She has a small team of coaches to assist – most of them former students who know how daunting it can be to step onto the ice rink for the first time. Altogether, Cole-Gerber and her coaches instruct between 30 and 40 students each season. Each skating session lasts seven weeks, and the class roster is nearly always diverse, filled with students from a variety of ages and backgrounds.

“The skaters come (to the ice terrace specifically) for the atmosphere,” she says. “A lot of our skaters are recreational, and I’ve had everyone from adults to 3-year-olds. We cover all ages.”

Riley Youngblood was one of many skaters who brought his family to the ice terrace on opening weekend in November. He says he has been ice skating since he was an eighth-grader.

“I love flying around on the ice,” says Youngblood, 21, of Lee’s Summit, as he watches others glide across the rink. “We’ll definitely be back here. Ice skating helps you get the entire seasonal experience.”

Vince Bowen, of Grandview, brought his wife and young son on opening weekend as well.

“It’s just a good time, to show off Kansas City,” Bowen says, cradling his 1-year-old. “And we’ll put this little guy out there on the ice next year.”

Cole-Gerber says she’ll be ready for the new skaters, and she does all she can to make sure they’re comfortable, too. From the first time a student laces up his or her skates, Cole-Gerber says she works carefully to ensure he or she can make it out to the rink itself.

“As long as I know they can walk into the rink in their skates, they’re golden. We will start them out with just a march outside,” she explains, adding that even tying one’s skates must be done with the utmost care. “A lot of times, it depends on how well you lace the skates up. If you can get the skate to feel like it’s a glove around your foot, you’re going to have a fine time. You want to keep it snug, but not too tight.”

While the beginning class will teach “basic marching,” how to stop on skates, and how to get back up when you fall onto the ice, the second session will present more advanced techniques; the advanced course also is where Cole-Gerber finds coaches for the following season. Each session costs $90, which includes a skate rental fee.

Cole-Gerber says that one of the most important things students can learn in their skating sessions isn’t the mechanics of skating – it’s self-confidence.

“They’ll think, ‘Hey, I can glide across the ice!’ or, ‘Hey, I can do it on one foot!’ They learn that they are able to learn something,” she says. “It’s all about coordination and it’s a lot about confidence. They’ll go out there and show their friends and then teach their friends. It’s contagious.”

Cole-Gerber cited two recent students as a prime example of how one can spark a love for skating and pass it on to friends and loved ones.

“I had a parent who came, and her sons loved it,” she recalls. “They came down, and then they came back and brought their friends. The moms would all sit and talk, and their kids would go out and take lessons. It’s great.”

Weeks of prep work go into making the ice terrace ready for the onslaught of visitors, most of whom visit between the end of Thanksgiving and the beginning of the new year (the only day the ice terrace is closed during its regular season is on Christmas day). Blomme, the ice terrace manager, says that though the ice terrace has been a Crown Center mainstay for 45 years, she and her staff remain dedicated to keeping it up to date.

“Preparation takes about a month,” says Blomme, who became interested in ice skating when she began playing hockey as a child. “We start in the first week of October. We have to get the skates sharpened and laced up. We have to help outside to lay the ice.”

That “ice” is actually a mixture of water and white paint, which gives the surface of the rink its shine and luster.
“That’s the first couple of layers,” Blomme explains. “And then we put small layers of water over and over that, until we get up to an inch or an inch and a half. That process takes about 12 hours.”

Workers mist the water onto the rink with a large hose and up to 16 nozzles. The size and weight of the hose mean that three or four employees at a time are carrying the hose, she adds.

Blomme says she helps out with the skating lessons when she can, and that she always has tips to share with beginners.
“Take small baby steps on the ice, so you can get an idea for how slick it is,” she recommends. “It’s more about marching. Do maybe two laps of small marching around the rink, and you’ll get the feel for it. We also tell people to lean forward and touch their knees if they’re going to fall, because they can regain their balance.”

Above all else, never be afraid to ask for help if necessary, she says.

“We always have someone on the ice and willing to help,” Blomme notes. “They’ll spend a few minutes with you and help get you going.”
Cole-Gerber says ice skating is an ideal holiday activity due to its romantic nature (Valentine’s Day is one of the ice terrace’s busiest days of the season), and that it has an enduring appeal because once someone learns the basics, it becomes an easy, fun activity in which the entire family can participate.
“There is a beauty to it. It’s an art form,” she says. “You watch a professional skater go across the ice, and they glide so effortlessly, they make it look like it’s easy to do. You watch those skaters and think, ‘Gosh, that looks so easy.’ And then, you try it and go, ‘OK, it’s not as easy as it looks. I have a greater appreciation for it now.’” ^

Regular admission for the Crown Center Ice Terrace (2425 Grand Blvd.) is $6, plus a $3 skate rental fee (attendees can bring their own skates if they wish). Adults over 60 and children under 4 are free. For more information, call the ice terrace at (816) 274-8411.