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Busy, different season at oval

Speedskaters from right, Kathy Feinberg and Nate Feinberg of Rochester and Cynthia Patnode Carey of Jay enjoy a morning workout on Dec. 19. (Photo Christie Sausa)

LAKE PLACID — Long considered one of Lake Placid’s most prominent and popular venues, the Olympic Speed Skating Oval is ready for a busy holiday week with new schedules and COVID-19 safety procedures.

In previous years, the greatest factor in when the Oval opened and how it operated was the weather, as temperatures needed to be consistently below freezing before ice was made on the surface. However, this year it wasn’t just the weather that the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) had to worry about, there was also the very-real and omnipresent COVID-19 virus that has been raging since March, and unfortunately will remain a threat throughout the winter.

As a state agency, ORDA had a greater responsibility than most venues to operate safely. In addition to its own internal safety department, through which all programs must be approved, ORDA must also submit its plans to Albany where the state evaluates and either approves or denies them.

ORDA had to go through this process since reopening its venues in the summer, including operation of the figure skating program hosted in the Olympic Center, and the focus on strict safety procedures and protocols, closely overseen by the state, has remained important.

Two of the greatest preventative measures are social distancing and mask-wearing, and both are required at the oval, as at all venues. Seating has been moved outside rather than in the warming hut building as in previous years. Skate rentals are offered through a side door outside the oval.

Also changed are the schedules, occupancy limits, and prices.

Each public skating session is one hour rather than the former 2 hours. Between each session, the benches are sanitized, and the ice is resurfaced. When purchasing tickets, skaters’ information will be entered into the computer, to be used in case contact tracing is required. Occupancy is limited to 150 people, which is 25% of capacity, although according to an oval employee, the most logged during a public session so far this season are 125 skaters, because the registration process takes several minutes. There can and probably will be long lines, so the same employee recommends arriving a bit early.

Admission fees have risen from previous years, at $15 for adults, $12 for juniors and seniors, and $10 for skate rentals. Season passes for speed skating are not yet available. However, Olympic Center Manager Terry Buczkowski said that ORDA is working to offer options for local skaters.

“We are adding special ‘Community Skate’ discount sessions available to everyone to compensate for peak time capacity limitations and pricing,” he said. “We’ve also (offered the option of) student passes to the Lake Placid School District students as has been done in the past and are finalizing a season pass offering for speed skating.”

Lake Placid K-12 students can currently purchase their student passes for $5 at the Oval Box Office.

This week promises to be very busy, and the oval will be open from Dec. 23 through Jan. 3 with extended holiday hours, and there will also be public skating indoors at the 1980 Herb Brooks arena. Buczkowski said that if weather affects outdoor skating during the holidays, those sessions will be moved indoors with associated limitations.

For more information on public skating at the Oval and in the Olympic Center, visit their public skating page https://lakeplacidolympicsites.com/todo/ice-skating/.