You might want a jacket when you go ice skating at the River Center - even in July. That alone is a big selling point for the 11-day Summer Skating on the River event.

The floor of the River Center is covered by ice. The skating fee covers skate rental, 90 minutes of cool, slippery fun and a small drink and candy. The River Center hosts public ice skating twice a year: once in the winter and once in the summer. That much ice in Baton Rouge is clearly unusual. To have it in July is miraculous.

That’s how it gets there, by miracle, with a little help from some impressive technology. The ice upon which visitors enjoy skating at the River Center is actually frozen right onto the arena’s concrete floor.

“Inside this floor,” River Center operations manager Joe Kora said, as he gestured over an empty expanse of concrete inside the River Center’s main arena, “there are expansion joints here so when we flow it (coolant) in, the floor expands (with the ice).”

The glycol coolant flows under the floor in pipes, about a half-inch in diameter. The pipes are laid in runs six inches apart, an inch and a quarter down inside the concrete, Kora said. They were built into the floor.

“It’s a giant grid,” Kora said. He stood at one end of the floor and pointed to the far side. “It goes all the way to the other end ? 120 feet.

“It’s filled with glycol. Glycol is what we use. You can’t get water cold enough, because water will freeze. The glycol comes out of the chillers at about 10 degrees (Fahrenheit). It takes about 12 hours to get the floor down to 14 degrees. That’s the point where we’ll actually start putting water down on there.”

“The most important thing is that we get that floor temperature down,” Kora said as he led the way into the facility’s chiller plant where five separate pumps circulate the coolant. Inside the small room, big multicolored pipes twist off every direction like the mad creation of a surrealist plumber. Purple pipes carry supply glycol. Green pipes carry recycled glycol. Blue pipes carry chilled glycol.

“Everything is controlled here,” Kora said. He paused to look at a gauge. “Right now the floor is 70.4 degrees. From that point, it’ll take us 13 hours to get down from that. During the winter we can get it down in about 10 hours. It’s not a quick process.” Once the floor is chilled, the River Center staff carefully builds the ice.

“We spray with a wand - a six-foot wide wand - and go back and forth and put a very, we’re talking a millimeter, thin layer on it over and over again. By the time we get back to one end of the floor, that part is frozen. So we’ll wand it, six or seven times with the wand, then we’ll paint it with a water-based paint. It’s basically a chalk. And that a professional jet ice, so it’s just like it’ll be at a hockey game or figure skating. Then after we put a couple of layers of paint down, we’ll go back with the wand and add a couple of layers of ice to seal that paint.

“When we get up to a quarter of an inch, then we’ll start bringing the Zamboni machine out. Anything less than a quarter of an inch (thick), and the Zamboni will crack the ice.”

The “Zam” is an ice maintenance vehicle that is like a giant red, white and blue tractor-sized box with studded tires. The crew uses the propane-powered Zamboni to dump water on the existing ice. “We get up to about an inch, a little bit over an inch,” Kora said. The Zamboni is filled with heated water.

“Heated water dries clearer. You get a better crystalline structure,” Kora said.

The ice system was planned and built in the building’s initial construction in 1977, he said.

“All the plumbing and pipes are original,” Kora said. “In 1999 when Kingfish (hockey team) started here, we revamped all the equipment.”

The crew performs the labor intensive ice-making task at least once a year. “We’ll do it again in the winter. Once or twice a year, we’ll do an ice show, whether it’s Disney on Ice or some other show - we haven’t had Ice Capades in a long time,” Kora said.

Removing the ice is not as much trouble, but it doesn’t just melt away either.

“When the skating’s done, the ice is scraped up with front end loaders and pushed out the arena’s double doors and allowed to melt outside,” Kora said. “The city will come in ? DPW will come in and push the ice out, right through that big roll-up door.”

Because the next night, the River Center floor might be something entirely different.

“About a month ago, when we did Disney on Ice in here, we went from an ice floor, to a fully carpeted floor to do a graduation and then went to a dirt floor for a rodeo in a two-week span,” Kora said.

So ice season in Baton Rouge is short and sweet. It’s a lot of work to create it, but Kora said the River Center staff loves it. So does the public.

“We run it to 250 people per session. Especially during the winter, we’ll sell out,” Kora said. It’s not just for those who are experienced skaters.

“We welcome everybody from beginner on,” he said. Most folks take a tumble or two when they’re starting, he said. “If you feel embarrassed, just look over at me and I’ll be falling down too.

“We do keep professional skate monitors out here. They’re on the ice with the skaters, they’ll give them pointers and help them up if they fall.”

On the ice

Here are few tips for first-time skaters from U.S. Figure Skating:

Skates must fit properly. Skates that are uncomfortable or too big will become a frustration to a beginner skater. Find a pair of skates in which your feet do not move around the inside of your boots, especially the heel. Your heel should be as far back into the boot as possible and should feel snug.

Your feet will feel best if you wear one pair of lightweight socks or tights. Bulky or thick socks may limit the support provided by your skates and create “bumps” inside your boots, making them uncomfortable.

Lace up your shoes correctly. Tap your heel back into the boot as far as possible. Pull the tongue completely up, giving it a gentle pull, and try to secure it straight up and down before tucking it beside your foot. Starting with the second or third set of laces from the bottom, begin to pull the laces tightly, one pair at a time, so the boot closes well over the front of your foot.

Protective head gear is recommended for all children under the age of 6 and all beginner skaters. A hockey, skateboard or ski helmet (multi-sport) will be suitable for use during beginning ice skating lessons.

Even the best skaters in the world fall. Falling is a necessary part of learning and does not need to be scary. Always remember to fall to one side, not forward or back on your tailbone. Begin by practicing a few times off the ice before getting on the ice. Lower your center of gravity, slide onto one hip, relax and collapse all the way to the ice. Protect your head from snapping back and hitting the ice by tucking your chin. Do not use your hands to break your fall.

??ON THE INTERNET: http://www.usfsa.org/