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Tuesday, September 16, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 59.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Tenney vs. Vilas: It's a cross-town skate-off
Burns prefers the lagoon at Tenney, Medaris opts for spacious Vilas
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Welcome to Tenney Park!
Welcome to Tenney Park!
Credit:Kenneth Burns

Ice skating at Tenney Park lagoon, of thee I sing
By Kenneth Burns

Says here that this weekend may be the season's "last, best chance for ice skating" at city parks. The news sends me back in time.

Nine years ago I moved to Madison from Chicago, and at first I was distraught at having to give up certain big-city amenities. What if I have the sudden urge to eat dim sum at 4 in the morning? To view a roomful of Impressionist masterpieces all at once? To look down from the tallest building on the continent? Note that I seldom did any of those things in the ten years I lived in Chicago. But as a new Madisonian I somehow dreaded not being able to do them on a moment's notice.

Then came the frigid winter evening when my new Madison friends proposed an ice skating outing to the Tenney Park lagoon. I was skeptical. I had only ever ice skated in my native Tennessee, and as a result the sport, to me, meant tight regimentation. All ice skating in the South is done at foul-smelling rinks, where everyone skates in the same endless circles and employees holler when anyone goes too fast.

But I strapped some rented hockey skates on that night, and I immediately forgot about Impressionism, late-night dim sum, and all the rest. For Chicago had nothing to compare to this: acres and acres of ice. Want to skate real fast? You can at Tenney Park. Want to skate in any direction you desire? Do so at Tenney Park. How about some crisp, fresh air and gorgeous winter sunlight to accompany your skate? Welcome to Tenney Park.

I've been a regular every year since that fateful night. After a couple of seasons, I splurged and bought my own skates. I've gotten reasonably adept on the ice, though Rudy Galindo I'm not.

Not to put too fine a point on it: Ice skating at Tenney Park lagoon is my favorite thing about wonderful Madison. And so this weekend will probably find me on the ice one last time. Maybe I'll even try a furtive arabesque. (Don't hold out for the triple lutz.)


Vilas Park's rink sets the standard for Madison skating
By David Medaris

The lagoon at Vilas Park was tied for my favorite place to skate throughout the 17 years I lived on the west side. I spent more time skating at the Shorewood Hills rink, because it was a short walk from my childhood home. But from the time I first laced up my iceskates at Vilas back in the winter of 1966-67, it was my ice of choice (given a choice, and a ride). Since migrating to the east side, the lagoon at Tenney has become my default skating destination. But the very mention of Vilas can still bring on a powerful bout of nostalgia.

Why? Scale. Vilas has a big, roomy skating area, affording more space for careening, flailing about, landing a double axel, zigging and zagging without infringing too much on the rights of other people to skate undisturbed. It has an irregular shoreline you can follow at your leisure. And there is a big roomy warming house if you're in need of a break.

Its setting in Vilas Park, surrounded by an open landscape adjacent to Lake Wingra and ringed by trees, magnifies a skater's sense of being out in the open under a big blue sky. The adjacent Vilas zoo provides a magnetic bonus attraction for family skating forays on the Vilas lagoon: Combining the two can make for a satisfying answer to Monday's question about what you did over the weekend. And regardless of family status or how much you might be intrigued by the slow loris, skaters who work up an appetite at the Vilas lagoon will find themselves in reasonable proximity to Monroe and Regent streets, where more than a dozen dining options include pizza, subs, pub food, noodles, Cajun and other ethnic fare.

Hungry now? Go skating at Vilas first.

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