CAPITAL DISTRICT – Now is the time when the reality of a Capital District winter starts to sink in.
As a parent, your first instinct might be to hunker down with the kids under a heavy blanket and wait it out, but you would be missing some wonderful opportunities to get outside and see a whole different side to your favorite local stomping grounds. After all, a little fresh air – albeit chilly – is good for everyone.
Embrace the ice
The ice skating rink at Empire State Plaza is one of the winter jewels of downtown Albany. Now in its fifth year, the rink is open daily through March 13, from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. and skating is free. Special events, including learn-to-skate clinics, are scheduled every Friday night, and skate rentals are available whenever the rink is open for $3 for kids and $4 for adults (free on Fridays). Amenities include a full-service snack bar and a skate lounge with lockers and music. Skaters of all abilities are welcome, so don’t worry if your kids are a little wobbly at first – this is a great place for beginners, and skating aids are available.
There are a lot of area skating spots that are ice permitting, so it’s best to check first if weather conditions exist to allow for safe skating. Among those are Swinburne Skating Rink, at 810 Clinton Ave., Albany. The Swineburne rink provides an all-weather protected skating area with free parking available at Bleecker Stadium. Weather-permitting, the rink is open seven days a week with rates ranging from 50 cents for 18 and younger, $1 for adults, and 25 cents for seniors. Skate rentals are $3. For hours and ice conditions, call (518) 434-5699.
Other outdoor rinks in the Capital District include:
- The Crossings Pond at 580 Albany Shaker Road, Colonie. Skating is free; call (518) 438-5587 for hours and conditions.
- Saratoga Spa State Park has two seasonal outdoor rinks with hockey allowed at the rink just off Avenue of Pines, but not at rink near Victoria Pool. Once again, these rinks are dependent on weather conditions, so a mild winter may make this option unavailable.
- In Glenville, Indian Meadows Town Park offers free, seasonal opportunities for skating. Rinks are open sunrise to sunset, with a warming hut open on weekends. Hours vary, depending on ice conditions, but when the skating rinks gates are open, the rinks are open.
Your family can also get a skating fix at a number of indoor facilities, including the Bethlehem YMCA (cdymca.org/locations/bethlehem-ymca); Albany County Hockey Facility in Loudonville (www.albanycounty.com/Government/Departments/HockeyFacility.aspx); The Weibel Avenue Ice Rink in Saratoga Springs; Clifton Park Ice Arena (www.cliftonparkarena.com); The Conway Ice Rink at HVCC (www.hvcc.edu/facilities/ice.html); and the Schenectady County Recreation Facility ((518) 384-2445) among many others. Varying usage and rental fees apply, but most come in well under $5 per person.
If you’re more in the mood to watch others on the ice, consider taking in a hockey game. The Albany Devils, who play their home games at the Times Union Center, are the top AHL affiliate of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils. Throughout the season, they have a number of exciting matchups that start at a family-friendly 5 p.m. Kids love the giveaways, puck toss and mugging with Devil Dog. Visit www.thealbanydevils.com for a schedule and ticket prices.
Though not technically an outside activity, this one still counts because you have to keep your coat on.
Skiing, hills or no
There are plenty of ski resorts within a short drive of the Capital District (it’s the Northeast, after all), but there is also one right in our own backyard, which makes a nice option for families looking to make it an easy low-key day of outdoor fun. Maple Ski Ridge in Schenectady is open weekdays from 3-9 p.m., 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays and school holidays, and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sundays. You can rent everything you need to get started on site, and skiing for ages 3 and under is free – so you can get them started early. Day passes range from $24-$38. Visit mapleskiridge.com for more information.
If cross-country skiing is more your speed, check out the miles of groomed woodland trails at Pineridge Cross Country Ski Area in East Poestenkill. Lessons, ski rentals, guided tours, a warming lodge, and a retail shop are all available. Rates range from $9-$20, with free skiing for those 6 and under. They even offer first-time skier packages that include a lesson, ski rental and day use fee. Reservations are recommended. Visit pineridgexc.com for more information.
If you have your own skis already (you can pick some used ones up on the cheap at Play It Again Sports in Latham), area state parks, town parks and golf course also provide ample skiing trails for any skill level.
It’s all downhill
Let’s talk sledding hills. This is the very best free winter activity there is, and sledding is also a fantastic way to burn those midwinter calories. Everyone has a favorite hill, but it’s important to gauge a sledding hill by how appropriate it is for your child’s age. Super-fast and steep hills are great fun for tweens and older kids, but they present a risk for young ones. Really great hills, like the one at Tawasentha Park in Guilderland, have different “runs” that appeal to different ages. It’s also important to remind your kids of some sledding etiquette before they go zooming off. You should always check below to make sure the sledder ahead of you has finished their run and knows you are on your way down. It’s also not a bad idea to have your child wear a helmet on the bigger hills. Accidents can happen quickly if you are not careful.
Other popular sledding hills in the Capital District include:
- Capital Hills Golf Course and Lincoln Park in Albany
- Elm Avenue Park in Bethlehem
- Frear Park in Troy
- Kinns Road Park in Clifton Park
- Schenectady’s Central Park
- Indian Meadows in Glenville
Get Back to Nature
The nature centers in the area don’t hibernate when it gets cold. Expect to find a full schedule of family activities, from snowshoeing to bird watching, throughout the winter. Most activities are free or available for a nominal cost.
Five Rivers Environmental Education Center is located in the Town of Bethlehem and boasts easy trails for snowshoeing and winter hiking for all abilities and an indoor nature center with animals and educational displays. See their schedule of events at www.dec.ny.gov/education/1835.html.
The Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center, located in Thacher State Park, offers year-round educational programs, and trails for hiking and skiing lead from the nature center to the lake, through woodlands and fields. Kids and adult snowshoes are available to borrow at $5 per pair for guided snowshoe hikes. Visit the New York State Parks website for more information.
The Albany Pine Bush Preserve holds numerous family programs and guided hikes throughout the winter, with snowshoes available to borrow with program registration. Go to www.albanypinebush.org for schedules and information.
Spend the weekend exploring the winter trails at Wilton Wildlife Preserve with $5 ski and snowshoes rentals. Kids and adult sizes are available. Visit www.wiltonpreserve.org for more information.
There are so many different ways you and your kids can enjoy being outside in the Capital District in the winter, but once you have had your fill of all that fresh air, there’s always that warm blanket to hunker under.