Britain, get your skates on

The number of temporary ice rinks across the country is on the rise this winter – and A&E departments are standing by. Ian Griggs reports

The cold snap this week heralds the return of months of bitter cold and darkness, but at least ice skaters can take heart from record numbers of temporary ice rinks springing up across the country.

A turn around the ice among 40ft Christmas trees and flaming torches in opulent settings such as Somerset House is fast becoming a modern festive tradition in almost every major town. Thursday sees the opening of the first rink of this year, at London's Natural History Museum.

What was once the preserve of the wealthy, when the world's first artificially frozen rink, the Glaciarium, was opened off the Kings Road in London in 1876, has become part of popular culture.

The National Ice Skating Association credits television shows such as Dancing on Ice with fuelling a huge resurgence of interest in the sport. "There has been a real growth in temporary rinks in the last two years, and most places now do them at Christmas," said the association's general secretary, Keith Horton.

The rehabilitation of ice skating as something fun and cool began at Somerset House, which opened the first temporary rink of modern times at Christmas in 2000. This year the venue is laying on DJs to make sure customers really are dancing on ice. In a potentially explosive combination of mulled wine and ice, Somerset House will also provide a full bar.

"We created a completely new idea for the public when we started because it was for people who had never skated before who wanted to try it in glamorous surroundings," a Somerset House spokeswoman said. "Attendance has increased every year and we have around 250,000 people who come to either watch or skate."

Londoners will have 10 temporary ice rinks to choose from this season and, as the number of venues increases, organisers are resorting to more elaborate methods to attract customers, with the O2 in east London laying on an indoor ski slope.

A similar pattern is being seen across the country as councils and private venues put their skates on to capitalise on a form of entertainment that draws in a wide demographic.

There were two dozen temporary ice rinks in the UK in 2006, but this has more than doubled to 52, as towns such as Crewe have joined the craze. A spokeswoman for Crewe and Nantwich Council said: "We are trying to maximise our Christmas market during these hard economic times with this free event."

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa) said the latest figures showed there were 8,500 ice skating injuries in 2002, including fractures and concussions. "Do bear in mind that you are likely to fall or slip at some stage, and follow the rules because they are there for your safety," a Rospa spokeswoman said.

Leeds A&E department is directly opposite where the temporary rink will be situated in the town centre. "It's so close that people can probably hobble there if they need to, and we're expecting a few people with ice skating injuries such as fractures and bumps in the coming months," a spokesman for the hospital said.

Some ice rink companies will not be hiring their equipment out to UK venues this year, having found lucrative opportunities in Scandinavian countries instead.

"There is a real demand for synthetic ice rinks because their lakes and rivers have not frozen over this year," said Ice Magic International managing director Peter Emmett. "It's sad to say, but there is a good commercial future in global warming."

But temporary rinks may only serve to exacerbate the effects of climate change on natural ice, an environmental auditing company warned. "They are damaging because the generators use a lot of energy to keep them cool and they are far from 100 per cent efficient," said David Stross, director of the environmental auditing company Environmental Partnerships.

Additional reporting by David Williams

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