Holiday ice rink opens in Union Square

It’s time to hit the ice again in San Francisco.

Revelers laced up their skates Wednesday as The City’s two outdoor holiday ice skating rinks — one in Union Square and the other at The Embarcadero Center — opened for the season.

While the ice might appear the same at the two locations, the rinks utilize very different insulation technologies, one environmentally conscious and the other economical. 

In order to successfully open the second annual Safeway Holiday Ice Rink in Union square, which attracted 55,000 skaters last year, workers had to line up more than 50 insulated sheets of aluminum to keep 6,000 square feet of ice frozen.

The insulated aluminum uses less energy to keep a quarter-inch of ice frozen than its Embarcadero competitor, producer Willy Bietak said.

“There’s nobody else that uses this system,” Bietak said. “It’s completely based on when we toured with the Ice Capades and our engineers came up with the idea to use aluminum panels in this system.”

The 25-year-old Embarcadero rink, located in Justin Herman Plaza, is 1,500 square feet bigger than its Union Square competitor and attracted about 4,000 more skaters last year. It uses a single rollout of rubber to keep its 4-inch layer of ice at minus-5 degrees, said
Holiday Ice Rink at the Embarcadero Manager Emery Lykins.

The plastic does not get cold as easily as the aluminum and it takes more energy to keep the rink frozen, Lykins said.

The water is frozen through a series of panels that act as a mini-refrigeration system. Coils under the panels are injected with a liquid chemical that keeps the temperature well below freezing.

“The whole idea is the aluminum’s a little more expensive but it freezes easier and it’s more efficient energy-wise,” Lykins said. “But we don't use the panels like they do. They're too expensive.”

The upkeep of the two rinks is similar, however. After each 90-minute session, the ice is scraped to level it out and then hot water is thrown on top to keep it smooth.

The ice rink in Union Square is only in its second year, but Bietak said after creating portable rinks all around the world, he always knew Union Square was ripe for resurrecting a holiday rink that hasn’t been in the area for years.

“It’s quite a wonderful feeling to skate in the evening with this environment,” he said. “It’s just really right for the holiday spirit with the Christmas tree next to us.”

Stay frosty

Lace up your skates and check out San Francisco’s two ice rinks:

Union Square Ice Skating Rink

  • 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays
  • 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
  • Open through Dec. 31
  • Adult admission: $9
  • Children 8 years and under: $4.50
  • Weekend skating is an additional 50 cents per person
  • Skate rentals are $4 with an additional $1 for hockey skates
     

Holiday Ice Rink at Embarcadero Center

  • 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays
  • 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
  • Open through Jan. 3
  • Adult admission: $9
  • Children under 10 years: $5.50
  • Weekend skating is an additional 50 cents per person
  • Skate rentals are $3.50

Source: Union Square and Embarcadero ice rinks

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com

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