An afternoon of ice skating is an idyllic family holiday activity, a statement of fact that ought to make any parent wary: Reality can be tough on imagined ideals.

Local indoor ice rinks, however, are prepared for both. Extended holiday hours accommodate the flood of families embarking on their quest for the holiday ideal. And they are greeted by 5-gallon buckets and helmets to better equip them for reality.

Like most activities requiring balance and coordination, the pros make it look easy. First-time skaters who twirl through the parking lot and stomp from the skate rental counter to the rink are often surprised when the blades hit the ice.

“Kids need a bit of an acclimation period until they get used to their skates,” said Tevis Lee, supervisor at Palouse Ice Rink in Moscow.

What Lee doesn’t describe is the flailing arms, the panicked grab for any nearby adult limb, the desperate scramble off the ice or the glazed expression of one betrayed.

But with gentle words — or outright force — kids who are coaxed around the rink soon find both their feet and determination. The Palouse Ice Rink and the LC Ice Arena in Lewiston provide 5 gallon buckets that kids overturn and use to balance themselves while they push around the rink. The Palouse Ice Rink also offers skate helpers, which Lee describes as walker-like devices that keep kids upright.

Some kids learn the old-fashioned way: held tightly in front of a hunched-over parent. Despite the ensuing back pain, this is the introductory method used by Chris Goetz, Clearwater County sheriff, with his daughters. The oldest, Ava, 6, has graduated to the buckets, but 4-year-old Ella finds herself securely in her dad’s arms.

After a turn around the rink, Ella sits on the lap of her mother, Brittany Goetz, and gives a compliant nod when asked if she is having fun. The family had come from Orofino to visit the LC Ice Arena.

“It seems like the right time of year to come do it,” said Goetz. “And this is the closest place where we can.”

Though both indoor rinks operate October through March, the holidays are when families typically come out.

“It’s a great opportunity for parents to get out with their kids,” Lee said. “Sometimes we have three generations in a family out on the ice together.”

But family closeness only works for some, and only for so long. As confidence in the skill grows, so does a sense of independence.

Celeste Paffile, 12, and a group of her friends hang out at the LC Ice Arena about once a week. Celeste is daughter of Kathleen Gunning and Blair Paffile, both of Lewiston.

They laugh, practicing tricks in the middle of the rink, alternately falling over and bringing new ideas to try. But there’s one thing they all leave at the door: their parents.

“They’d embarrass me,” Paffile said. “They don’t know how to do anything.” Her friends nod and roll their eyes in agreement, confirming a belief on which some parents will undoubtedly capitalize.

But as a refuge from parents, the ice rink is about as clean as they come. Pop music plays lightly from overhead speakers, and the well-lit room means there are no dark corners for kids to get in trouble.

The busy-but-still-not-crowded rink is dominated by the young and carefree sort, though all ages are present. Newbies are reminded to dress warmly — an indoor ice rink is still an ice rink — and to consider wearing a helmet. Falls may be inevitable, especially for kids, but head injuries don’t need to be. As for lessons, the best way to learn is by experience.

“Just throw them out on the ice,” said Tyler Landon, manager of LC Ice Arena. “They figure it out.” Sure, that initial image might not match the scenes from holiday movies, but reality proves an amiable companion, even on the cold and slippery ice.

If you go: What: LC Ice Arena When: Public skate sessions are offered most days during the holidays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Times are available at the online schedule: http://www.lcicearena.com/ScheduleTyler.html Skate with Santa: Noon-4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 23 New Year’s Eve Skate: 9 p.m. Monday, Dec 31 – 1 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 1 Where: 1521 Sixth Ave. N., Lewiston Admission: $5 general admission, $2 children (5 and younger), $3 for college students with ID, $2 skate rental. Wednesday Cheap Skate $4 admission (includes rental). Sunday Family Skate $20 (includes rental).

What: Palouse Ice Rink When: Public skate sessions are offered during the holidays at varied times, most mornings and afternoons. Times are available at the online schedule: http://www.palouseicerink.com/schedule-price Skate with Santa: 1-2:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22 Where: 1021 Harold Ave., Moscow Admission: $5 general admission, $4 for seniors, veterans and youth (17 and younger), $2 for preschool (5 and younger), $2 skate rental

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