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Despite being a relatively warmer winter so far, ice skating, a major winter attraction of Himachal Pradesh’s state capital began on Wednesday at Asia’s biggest natural rink located here.   Skating enthusiasts converged at the rink braving the morning chill to enjoy the thrill of sliding on layers of ice.

Ice remains intact at the rink as long as the temperature doesn’t rise above 4 or 5 degrees Celsius.   A trial was successfully done Tuesday and the ice skating season officially began on Wednesday, said Pankaj Prabhakar, the organising secretary of the Shimla Ice Skating Club.   Last year, the season started on December 16 and 52 sessions, mostly one or two a day, took place.

This year the organisers were hoping to start early as temperatures were favourable since December 4.   However , it got delayed by almost two weeks as the ground was sinking at one side and leveling it took time. Moreover, barracks put at the Rivoli bus stand stopped the cold breeze, he said.

The ice is thin and the skaters only have 80 percent of the rink which is equal to the size of five tennis courts as construction material for building the particular lift from Lakkar Bazar to Mall Road under Shimla Smart City Mission is lying at the entrance of the rink.

A skating carnival with events like ice dance, fancy dress, tug of war and an ice hockey match would be organized upon December 25-26 and the Gymkhana (races and sports competitions) in the first week of January 2023, said an official. The rush would pick up during school holidays, he said. The shrinking ice-skating season has been a cause of serious concern as it is a major winter attraction for the local people as well as tourists. The ice skating which normally starts in the last week of November or the first week of December was delayed to December 14 this year.

Due to climate change, global warming and reckless construction in the vicinity of the rink, coupled with pollution caused by the bus stand adjunct to the rink, the ice skating season is shrinking. The felling of trees has also contributed to skating seasons beginning late, Prabhakar said.   December 2016 was warmest in the history of Shimla and maximum temperature soared to 22 degrees Celsius, spelling doom for ice skating and only six sessions were held.   Earlier, the lowest number of sessions, just 12, was in 1972 while the maximum 118 sessions were held in 1997-98, this individual said.

The history of the Shimla Ice Skating Club dates back to 1920, when tennis courts were converted into a natural ice skating rink by an Irish military official, Blessington. In the winter months, whenever he sprinkled water on the tennis court to settle the particular grass, it froze within seconds and he immediately thought of converting the arena into an ice skating rink.

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