A TRULY exhilarating winter setting has just reopened for the season -- the ice rink at the National Gallery of Art. With their moderate temperatures and non-existent windchill factors, indoor ice rinks just can't compare.

Located in the heart of the gallery's outdoor sculpture garden, the ice rink provides a sleek, open-air arena where intrepid skaters can experience art in a whole new way.

For the past 30 years, the National Gallery has provided ice rink space for city skaters. For the past six years, the rink has been housed in the sculpture garden. Spanning a 6.1-acre block adjacent to the gallery's West Building, the sculpture garden, with twinkling lights and seasonal music, takes on a festive atmosphere when the rink is in full swing.

Fifty yards from the rink, the gallery's Pavilion Cafe serves hot beverages and family-friendly fare. The cafe also offers panoramic views of the skating action and the sculpture garden from a warmer indoor vantage point.

The garden's most recent installation, a 14-foot-tall, 12-foot-wide cast-iron Paris Metropolitain entrance, one of the few remaining among those removed from Paris subway stations between the 1930s and 1960s, lends an even more cosmopolitan feel to the setting.

"There's no other urban rink like this in the country," says Kirk Huserik, the rink's manager. Huserik, who began his career as a Zamboni driver for the gallery 15 years ago, still enjoys the moments when he gets the chance to fire up the Zamboni and take it for a ride.

"I try to get out there at least once a season. Getting the chance to make the ice smooth again, surrounded by museum domes and sculpture, is an incredibly tranquil experience."

Huserik, when not waxing Zenlike on the joys of the Zamboni, has also had the pleasure of watching tourists from warmer climates who have never seen an outdoor rink or skated before approach the ice for the first time. The overwhelming response, according to Huserik, is equal parts wonder, caution and awe.

"It's like they can't believe what they're seeing. It makes you remember that an outdoor rink really is a beautiful and remarkable thing."

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART SCULPTURE GARDEN ICE SKATING RINK -- Seventh Street and Constitution Avenue NW. 202-289-3360. www.nga.gov. Open mid-November through mid-March, weather permitting. Open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sundays from 11 to 9. Two-hour sessions begin on the hour. $7, $6 for seniors (age 50 and older), students and children age 12 and younger. Skate rental is $3 (ID required). Locker rental is 50 cents ($5 deposit required)

EASY GLIDERS

For those who want to feel the wind in their hair and Jack Frost nipping at their nose, here is a list of outdoor ice rinks in the area. Most rink sessions are two hours long. Skates and locker rentals (if available) are an additional charge. When skating outdoors, the words "weather permitting" take on added importance: It's always a good rule to call first.

District

C&O CANAL NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK -- 301-299-3613. www.nps.gov/choh. Skating is permissible on the canal only when the "skate at your own risk" signs are posted. Access points are at Fletcher's Boathouse in Georgetown, at Chain Bridge, Locks 7 and 8 near Glen Echo (off the Clara Barton Parkway), at Old Angler's Inn (skating is prohibited above Old Angler's at Wide Water), at Great Falls, Swain's Lock, Pennyfield Lock and Violette's Lock. There are different regulations for the Western district of the C&O Canal National Historic Park. Call the ice skating hotline, 301-767-3707, to check on skating conditions.

PERSHING PARK ICE RINK -- Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th Street NW. 202-737-6938. www.pershingparkicerink.com. Open to mid-March, weather permitting, Monday through Thursday from 11 to 9, Fridays from 11 to 11, Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sundays from 11 to 7. $6.50, $5.50 for children 12 and younger. Skate rental is $2.50.

Maryland

NORTH ARUNDEL CENTER -- 103C Crain Hwy. N., Glen Burnie. 410-768-7700. Open Monday through Thursday from noon to 9, Fridays from noon to 10, Saturdays from 10 to 10, Sundays from 10 to 7. $6.50, $5.50 for children 12 and younger. Skate rental is $2.50.

Virginia

PENTAGON ROW ICE RINK -- 1201 S. Joyce St., Arlington. 703-418-6666. www.outdooriceskating.com. Open mid-October through early March, weather permitting, Monday through Thursday from noon to 9, Fridays from noon to 11, Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sundays from 10 to 9. $7, $6 for children 12 and younger. Skate rental is $3.

RESTON SKATING PAVILION -- 1818 Discovery St., Reston. 703-709-6300. www.restontowncenter.com. Open the last week of October through second weekend of March, weather permitting, Monday through Thursday from 11 to 9, Fridays from 11 to 11, Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sundays from 10 to 9. $7, $6 for children 12 and younger. Skate rentals are $3.

Skaters take to the ice at the National Gallery of Art's outdoor rink last winter. The rink, in the sculpture garden adjacent to the gallery's West Building, is open now through mid-March, weather permitting.