It was the first time ice skating for 5-year-old Kailyn Simmons — and the first time in a while for her mother, as well.
“I’m kind of scared to figure out how I’m going to help her and me,” Kailyn’s mother, Janelle Simmons, said with a laugh. “I think we’re gonna fall a lot, but it’s going to be fun.”
Baton Rouge residents largely unaccustomed to snowy conditions or ice that isn’t floating in soft drinks flocked to the River Center downtown for Ice Skating on the River, an annual family event that lasts from Dec. 19 to Jan. 4.
Skaters on Saturday morning mostly stuck to the walls. A few tumbled dramatically while others spun their arms wildly and teetered but regained their balance.
“All those Christmas songs are about snow, and this is about as close as we can get to it,” said Cindy Oliveri, whose kids, ages 13 and 16, were back for their third year.
Some icegoers were seasoned attendees.
Tracey Seiden has brought her son Steven, now 12, since he was 4 years old. He hung on to the wall the whole time his first year but has since grown more used to the ice. And despite the scarcity of snow in the Baton Rouge area, Seiden said, the annual skating foray has become something of a family tradition.
“I think it’s a neat opportunity for him to try something you don’t usually get to do in the South,” she said.
Baton Rouge resident Karen Pride brought her 9-year-old son, Trey, and 10-year old daughter, Katie, to the River Center for the second year.
The family is originally from Brunswick, Georgia, so her kids aren’t used to frozen weather, but they relish any chance they get to experience real winter. During last year’s low temperatures in Baton Rouge, Pride’s kids were thrilled by the moments when a small amount of snow fell from their back porch.
“Anything with snow, they get excited,” Pride said as she watched her kids pick up speed around the rink. “This is different for them.”
Karen herself tried to skate with them last year but clung to the wall the whole time.
The rink’s ice is the product of 2½ days of solid work, said Lanny Rabalais, who has worked at the center since 2001 and has overseen the ice production since 2007.
He was proud of the carefully maintained layer of ice that measures about three quarters of an inch thick, which also is coated with a layer of nontoxic white paint. Without the paint, he said, you would see straight through to the concrete below.
A few patrons did struggle with putting on the hard blue plastic skating boots. Shaun DuPlantis, of Houma, had to take a break after a lap or two around the rink and plopped down to a chair, disappointedly readjusting the straps.
“I’m digging it,” he said of the event, “but my damn feet hurt. I should have worn thicker socks.” His wife, Mandy DuPlantis, seemed to fare somewhat better with her pair.
DuPlantis was happy to see some ice again after his five years living in Colorado, where he fondly remembers skating on a pond and snowboarding down dangerous slopes at the Arapahoe Basin ski area. Now, he’s happy to see any snow he can find.
“We don’t have much down here Christmaswise, so to have something like this is really neat.”
Follow Daniel Bethencourt on Twitter, @_dbethencourt.