There are advantages to having a hockey-playing wife. She looks mighty fine in those shoulder pads. We get bragging rights for having the only member of the mothers group who's ever slapped in a last-minute goal while three months pregnant (don't worry; it's a no-checking league).
And we go to hotels with ice rinks. Forget in-room coffeemakers, extra pillows and free shampoo. The hotel amenity that my skate-crazy family demands these days is ice -- and not the kind in a bucket. We've found a number of places where it is just a stroll from the room to the rink, allowing the two girls to pirouette gracefully, me to flail clumsily and the wife to work on her power turns.
That's how we came to be at West Virginia's Canaan Valley Resort on a blustery Saturday last month with the first major snow of the season fresh on the ground. The resort's ice skating pavilion, a covered outdoor rink, features machine-cooled ice and is open, weather permitting, into mid-April. But it was doubly satisfying to be there when the surrounding mountain landscape was so seasonally appropriate. The rink, set a few dozen yards from the main lodge, is wide open to the long views down the valley. If you can spare the attention during your flying camel, you'll get a lovely, if blurred, 360-degree view of frosted evergreen forests and wintry pastures.
Even better in chilly weather, there's a brick fireplace in one corner of the pavilion that throws a nice smoky hominess over the rink. (That's in spite of the fireplace's tiny size. For some reason, in a place that screams for the kind of big walk-in fireplace you find in a lodge lobby, they've installed one that would fit comfortably in a mobile home.)
But there were plenty of flames the night we arrived, when the hotel lighted one of its weekly bonfires off to the side. Families, flocking to Canaan for the long-delayed skiing, moved back and forth between the cheery blaze and the 7,500-square-foot rink bathed in blue electric light. The cold walk back to the room was through the small herd of petting-zoo-tame deer that mooch a living along the ranks of motel-style outbuildings.
There are 250 rooms in the state-owned lodge and 23 cabins and cottages scattered deep into the nearby woods. Depending on where you are staying and the weather, it can be a bracing walk to the rink. And you may well be making the return trip wet; there's a sizable and heated indoor pool in the lodge -- with the same great Canaan views through window walls -- and kids see it as a natural twofer to go straight from figure eights on the ice to cannonballs into the deep end. We came to appreciate their apres-skate attitude as soon as we lowered ourselves into the adjacent hot tub.
Add some downhill runs or cross-country time at one of the valley's several ski areas, and you've got an appealing wintry mix indeed. (The Canaan Valley Resort rink is open through ski season and sometimes a few weeks beyond, so there's a promise of balmier skating as well.)
We found a very different skate scene way to the east at Ocean City's Carousel Hotel, a bunkerlike high-rise on the beach that just happens to boast a little ice rink in the lobby. Here, instead of skates and skis, you can toggle between blades and blankets, at least in the summertime when the ice provides a jarring alternative to the crowded beach a few hundred feet away. In July and August, the Carousel's contribution to peak beach season is a program of nightly ice shows. In the winter, when we visited most recently, the crowds are much smaller but the rink can still fill up on weekends. (There's an indoor pool here as well, which you can get to from your room without encountering any actual weather.)
My wife's one complaint about the Carousel's rink was that it's a bit small for a robust skater like her to work up any speed. And she said it while skating literal circles around my flapping rag-doll self. That's the downside to having a hockey-playing wife. They can be a little, well, puckish.
HOTELS WITH ON-SITE SKATING RINKS
CANAAN VALLEY RESORT AND CONFERENCE CENTER, Davis, W.Va.The ice rink at this state-owned lodge and ski resort about four hours from Washington operates through ski season and often into mid-April. It's open Fridays from 3 to 10 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and during the week from 3 to 9 p.m. Two hours of skating runs $5 for adults and $4 for kids younger than 12. Skates rent for $3 a pair. The comfortable but basic motel-style rooms begin at $79 a night during the week, $89 on weekends. (During March, the resort is celebrating its 35th birthday by offering rooms for $35 a night Sunday through Thursday.) The 23 cabins and cottages, a bit removed from the main lodge, include housekeeping service, fireplaces and kitchens and start at $168 a night, $739 a week.
THE HOMESTEAD RESORT, Hot Springs, Va.This venerable old pile is known for its mineral baths and rich tradition of Old Dominion relaxation. Through March, the cold-weather activities include a skating pavilion near the ski lodge. After an hour on the rink, a hot soak in the Jefferson Pools (yes, that Jefferson) is even more soothing. Ditto the cocktails at Sam Snead's Tavern. The rink is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily at an all-day cost of $15 for adults, $10 for kids younger than 12. Rentals are $7 for adults, $5 for kids. 1766 Homestead Dr., 540-839-1766,
CAROUSEL HOTEL, Ocean City.The incongruous lobby rink of this high-rise beach motel is open year-round from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and 4 to 10 p.m. during the week. Rates are $3 for guests, $4 for non-guests (for as long as you want to skate); rentals are $2 for guests, $3 for non-guests. Room rates at this time of year start at $79 for oceanfront, $49 for others (rates begin climbing in April). 11700 Coastal Hwy.,
MOHONK MOUNTAIN HOUSE, New Paltz, N.Y.The Hudson Valley's grand old Mohonk is a bit farther than the neighborhood ice rink (at 300 miles from Washington), but it merits a mention here as the most attractive skating venue my skate-focused family has ever found. It's a huge 9,375-square-foot rink under a timber-frame roof on stone columns; the fireplace is big enough to hold a Zamboni. The pavilion operates from late November through mid-April. Hours vary from week to week, but there are numerous public sessions almost every day. Skating and use of skates are free to overnight guests, $15 per non-guest including rentals. Through the next month, Mohonk has a Midweek March Madness rate of $252 per night, double occupancy, that includes breakfast, dinner and afternoon tea, along with use of the numerous facilities. Weekend rates in March start at $415 per night. In April, regular rates return, with inclusive rooms starting at $445 a night. 1000 Mountain Rest Rd., 800-772-6646,