It's time to get your skates on

It may be that fashions have gone full circle: ice skating is, after all, the sport that helped launch winter holidays a century ago. Or it could be the desire to offer more diversified activities. You don't just lurch around the rink in an ungainly fashion any more. Instead you can kart, bike, drive a car or windsurf on ice. You can climb, descend ice tracks in bobsleighs, play ice hockey, ice golf or ice polo, go to an ice disco - or, if you desire, dive through a hole cut in a frozen lake by day or night.

New ice rinks are all the rage, especially across the Atlantic. Last year the rapidly expanding Sun Peaks resort in British Columbia built one; this year Northstar (00 1 530 562 1010; www.northstarattahoe.com) by Lake Tahoe in California opens its new resort, Village, centred on a year-round ice rink. The rink will be open day and evening with ice skating free of charge (although there is a charge to rent skates).

The idea is that the rink can provide a focal point to a mountain resort community. "One of the most important elements is the creation of places where people can come together and enjoy the village atmosphere," said Northstar spokeswoman Nicole Belt. "These include outdoor fire pits, restaurants and the new ice-skating rink at the Village core."

Variations on the ice theme are appearing all the time, just in case skating round and round on a rink is too goldfish-like an activity. In Tignes (0033 479 40 04 40; www.tignes.net) this winter the French resort will create a circuit 500m long and five metres wide on the west of the lake so that skaters can tour the lake, rather than being limited to a regular rink. The circuit will be open 2pm-8pm daily.

Tignes is one of those that also offers ice karting on a 320m circuit in a 270cc kart from €20 (£14) per person for 10 minutes.

City skates: Budapest

Hungary's slide from communism to capitalism was smoother and more elegant than elsewhere in the Soviet bloc, partly because the decadence of the Hapsburg era was never successfully erased by state socialism.

City Park is the rectangular slab of indulgence that restrains the north-west expansion of Budapest. Communism did not crush its heroic dimensions and architecture, nor the propensity of the citizens to celebrate winter.

The main venue was, and still is, the nigh-unpronunceable Varosligeti Mujegpalya (asking for directions to the City Park ice rink should get you there). This outdoor rink is a boating lake in summer, but in winter freezes into a wide oval that is ideal terrain for skaters, however unsteady.

The grandstand is a glowing confection of a Hapsburg palace, and the mobile experience is best enjoyed on a crisp midwinter evening under dazzling floodlights - sponsored, in these enterprising days, by a mobile phone company.

Simon Calder

Varosligeti Mujegpalya: 00 36 1 364 0013; opening is weather-dependent but usually late November-February.

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