The Skating Ribbon

By: Kent Mc Dill


October 1, 2015
   In The Loop Extended Articles

In the winter of 2014, Chicago’s perfect lakefront, which already had miles of walking paths and beaches and entertainment venues and nearby shopping, added an activity that makes the magnificent city even more perfect.

Right in the middle of the expanse of lakefront land that beckons to visitors, from Soldier Field and the Field Museum to the south all the way to the north end of the Magnificent Mile, the City of Chicago constructed a playground. And in the middle of the playground, snaking its way past trees, slides and climbing structures, there is an ice skating surface.

But not just any ice skating surface.

The Skating Ribbon, which will go by one name (the Ribbon) for all of its existence just as the nearby Bean does, is a quarter-mile outdoor ice skating surface that is unlike most other man-made ice skating venues. Although skaters complete a loop on the Ribbon, they don’t just skate in a wide circle. They skate up, and they skate down, and the skate right, and they skate left. Skaters on The Ribbon do not just skate around; they meander.

The Ribbon is part of the Maggie Daley Park, which sits in the northern part of Grant Park, alongside Millennium Park, which borders the first official block of North Michigan Ave. Maggie Daley is the former first lady of Chicago who passed away in 2011.

“The Ribbon was visualized during design to be a ribbon of ice winding through majestic evergreen trees and rolling landscape to provide an ice skating experience unlike any other,’’ said Nicole Sheehan, project manager for Maggie Daley Park. “With the city’s skyline as a backdrop, the Ribbon is dramatically different from typical civic ice rinks, creating an experientially rich, multisensory activity that is integrated into the landscape.”

Skating already existed in that area of the city, at the McCormick Tribune Rink at Millennium Park, bordering Michigan Avenue. But that rink was small, and something else was desired when the city began planning Maggie Daley Park.
“During the planning process, the public indicated a strong desire to keep ice skating at the park,’’ Sheehan said. “The Ribbon was originally part of a larger concept to create a ‘Winter Wonderland,’ so that the park could be enjoyed in all four seasons. As the project scope and size changed, the Ribbon was the major component which stayed a part of the overall design although its location, orientation and overall design varied throughout the design process.”
The park lead landscape architect, Michael Van Valkeburgh Associates, worked with a company named Stantec, which has extensive experience in the design of winter recreation facilities, including ice rinks and other skating facilities.

“The idea of creating the Ribbon was generated by the desire of having a more varied user experience than the traditional rink or a simple loop,’’ Sheehan said. “This was achieved by making it a graceful, winding trail with varied widths and the introduction of topography.”

“Topography” means the Ribbon surface climbs and descends, slightly, but enough to create a feel of skating in nature. It wraps around a center island of playground, and when the surrounding greenery grows to its adult size, it will appear to be an ice skating path that wanders through a wooded area the way a forest path does.
The Ribbon is protected from Chicago’s special brand of weather by the Art Museum to the south, and the hills and valleys added to the former Daley Bicentennial Plaza, which also helps to block out noise from nearby Columbus Drive to the east or Michigan Avenue to the west.

The rink can host 700 skaters at a time. And it has rules.

No one is allowed to skate on the ribbon while talking on or operating a smartphone. Because it is only a path, there is no “middle’’ to the rink for jumps and spins, and no backward skating is allowed.

In fact, nothing is allowed beyond skaters, and those skaters are required to be peaceful ones. No excessive speed or game playing is allowed, and there are no secondary items allowed on the ice such as handbags, backpacks, cameras, or portable music devices.  Speed skating and hockey skating is not allowed either.
Simply put, the Ribbon is designed to provide a quiet, peaceful skate around and through the park in the middle of one of the greatest cities in the world.

The facility provides a skating assist sled for skaters with physical disabilities, and their companion skater. And skating on the Ribbon is free, with skate rentals available for $12.

From December of 2014 to the end of skating season in the spring, a period of about 12 weeks, an estimated 72,000 people used the Skating Ribbon.

During the summer season, the Ribbon is available as a walking path, and for roller blading and skating for all ages. Children under the age of 12 are even allowed to ride tricycles, scooters or bikes with training wheels. No full size bicycles are allowed.

The Ribbon is also available for special events in all seasons. In June of 2015, it hosted the Chicago Area Runners Association first annual Run the Ribbon Mile Race. At the end of September 2015, the Illinois Restaurant Association hosted the Rise & Shine Gourmet, an event that included a family fun run on the Ribbon.

It took two years to build the entire park at a cost of $35 million, including $10 million in privately raised funds.