BEST PLACE TO ICE SKATE - 2005
Centennial Lakes Park
In case you haven't noticed, this is a state with a frigid climate and more than 12,000 lakes. Add in the various hockey arenas and hose-watered park rinks and it's obvious that places to skate are as plentiful, idiosyncratic, and (in many cases) as convenient as your neighborhood laundromat or hardware store. So we'll pitch this pick to the uninitiated skaters, the tots, or the transplants from other parts of the country. Unlike the Milwaukee Depot, a beautiful, enclosed rink in downtown Minneapolis, Centennial Lakes Park has no admission charge. Skate rentals are relatively cheap at $4 a day, and bladed, seat-backed ice sleds--which can simultaneously support your slippery slapstick and provide your recalcitrant kids with a strollerlike ride--rent out for $5 per day. The lake itself is a 10-acre expanse, groomed daily for skating, and divvied up into three ponds connected by narrow passageways. In other words, enough room to fall down without causing a chain collision, but sufficiently confined to allow you to keep a running head count of the people in your party. The warming house has indoor and outdoor fireplaces, lockers, refreshments, and a vast window facing the lake. If your child has a winter birthday, it's a great setting for parties, and for first dates, mutual physical awkwardness can be a real, ah, icebreaker.