Someday, 6-year-old Amy Adler wants to jump in the air on ice skates the way Olympic gold-medalist Kristi Yamaguchi does. Until then, she's content skating repeatedly around the Columbia Ice Rink and practicing new moves.
"I can do two-foot spins," said Amy, sitting on a blue bench in the frigid rink one day last week.
The first-grader at Stevens Forest Elementary School was at the Oakland Mills rink to practice for an exam in her basic skating class.
She is among the 8,000 people who visit the rink each year for group skating, hockey lessons and recreational skating, said Bob Eckhoff, the general manager. He said 75 percent of the visitors are young people.
"We are one of the larger baby-sitters" in the area, he said.
On Friday nights, some 500 teens visit the rink, said Kathleen Golding, the rink's administrative manager. Most come to socialize, she said.
"Some girls stand in the middle [of the rink] and giggle," she said.
The recent inclement weather and the winter Olympics have significantly increased the number of visitors to the rink, which opened in 1971, Mr. Eckhoff said.
Although the rink will close for the season March 25, managers have scheduled special classes from March 28 to April 1 to accommodate demand sparked by the winter Olympics.
"We've been extremely busy, to the point it's hard to provide services we would normally provide," Mr. Eckhoff said.
The Columbia Association, the nonprofit corporation that runs Columbia's recreational facilities, operates the 45-employee rink, which in fiscal 1995 will have expenses totaling $889,000.
Originally, the rink was opened as a year-round facility for Columbia residents. But it didn't attract large crowds.
Now the rink is open daily between September and March, Ms. Golding said.
Fees include $2 for skate rentals and $5 for general admission. A $500 CA membership allows participation for all Columbia recreational facilities, including the rink.
Dorothy Hamill, Olympic gold medalist, is among the famous skaters who have visited the rink, which features competitions each year, and shows by the Columbia Figure Skating Club.
On March 26 and 27, for example, the club will present Mary Poppins on Ice.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon at the 30,000-square-foot rink, people bought snacks from the snack shop and supplies from the pro shops. Some put on skates, chatted and played video games in the warming room. Others rented skates from the 600-pair rental booth.
On the ice, young Amy joined children and adults as Billy Joel, Robin S and Tina Turner blared from the speakers.
"She likes it because it's something she can do on her own," said Heide Gerzowski, 24, Amy's sister. "She really loves to skate."
Thirteen-year-old Amy Lough said: "I just like that it's open after school, and there's lots of room to try new stuff. I can't jump yet, but I can do spins real good."
Through a plastic shield overlooking the ice, Theresa Bress of Ellicott City watched her son and daughter skate.
"Sometimes it's a little cold and you want to leave, but you only get one chance to be a parent," Mrs. Bress said.
She said she brings her children to the rink because it's convenient, and because skating is a good activity.
Mrs. Bress worried the first day, however, when her son Adam, 10, fell and hit his head on the ice. "Thank God, he had his helmet on," she said.
Skating can be exhausting, admitted Brandon Moore, 11.
"I go around a lot till I start to get tired, and sit down till I regain my energy," he said.
Debra Blomme, a self-described "household goddess," said she brings her two daughters to the rink and goes skating, too.
"It's good, clean fun and the environment is pretty well controlled," she said.