One of my favorite animated sequences of all time is the ice skating scene in A Charlie Brown Christmas. As cutout paper snowflakes tumble earthward, the whole Peanuts gang glides over the ice of a small pond. Pigpen's dust cloud miraculously follows him, even in this pristine environment, and the best skater around is Snoopy, despite his marked lack of skates. The jaunty theme by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi sets the tone, and soon I'm out there on the ice zipping around with the rest of the cartoon characters.
Like Charlie Brown's fictional hometown, Spokane boasts a great place to skate right in the heart of town. The Ice Palace at Riverfront Park hosts hours of public skating sessions every day under the soaring open cables of the Pavilion. While you won't catch many snowflakes while skating at the Ice Palace, you'll get the benefits of a nicely maintained ice surface while still enjoying the fresh outdoor air -- something even Snoopy would appreciate. The skate rental shop offers both figure skates and hockey skates; the newest skates come fully padded for comfort, with big red buckles on the kids' models. And don't forget, skating offers a great aerobic workout.
If your memories of skating date back to the original airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas, make this holiday season your year to get out on the ice again. Strap on those sturdy rental skates and step gingerly onto the ice. Now bend your knees, arms out for balance, and off you go. Feel the wind in your hair and the burn in your thighs as you circle the rink. Just ignore those creaky knees for now and let yourself be a kid again.
For those new to the thrill of gliding over the frozen surface, the Ice Palace offers learn-to-skate sessions that include lessons, skate rental and free admissions. There's also a morning session for parents and tots so the little ones (and the big ones) can learn their way around the rink. If hockey's your game, two drop-in sessions are offered each week, Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings.
While you're at Riverfront Park, how about a wintertime spin on the city's historic Looff Carousel? There's nothing like watching the snowflakes fall as you ride one of the hand-carved horses and listen to the carousel's German-made Ruth organ, built in 1907. And when you've had enough outdoor fun, step inside the IMAX theater for an adventure with Tom Hanks and the whole Polar Express crew. Or catch the antics of the lonely snowman who decides to take on Santa and his elves in Santa vs. the Snowman.
Riverfront Park has winter day passes ($12; children 3-12, $9) that include skate admission, skate rental, one IMAX feature, two carrousel rides plus a round of Enchanted Forest mini-golf. And participating downtown retailers are handing out coupons for free admission to the Ice Palace (skate rental not included) with gift purchases, as a little thank-you for shopping downtown.
Ice Palace public skating hours: Daily 11 am-5 pm; Mon-Thu 6:30 pm-8:30 pm; Fri-Sat and nights before holidays 7 pm-10 pm; plus additional holiday hours. Admission: $4; $3, children (3-12), seniors (62+) and military with ID; Skate rental: $2.75; Drop-in hockey: $6; Season pass: $35