Queens of the New Ice Age

When Hell freezes over, you can at least go figure skating. Who doesn’t love the drama, the death-defying physics, the impossible gravity and fantastic biomechanics, the skill and grace, the slender girls and psychotic costumes? Two local rinks cultivate ice madness. Artesia’s East West Ice Palace is owned by Danny Kwan, the father of Her Royal Highness of the Triple Toe Loop herself, Michelle Kwan. And like her, East West is elegant, polished, professional and all but screams money. If there’s anything you want in the way of becoming a highly decorated power skater, East West will have it: a state-of-the-art fitness center with rows of ellipticals, treadmills, stretch bars, free weights, flat-screen TV monitors and NordicTracks; a pro shop stocked to the gills with leotards, leggings and skates (both figure and hockey); a snack and juice bar; ballet lessons; yoga lessons; and, obviously, skating lessons. Every now and then Michelle Kwan pops up at one of the freestyle sessions.

The ice is pristine. The air, chilly. Your breath evaporates in smoky little puffs when you exhale. On a recent visit, I sat in the stands with the superintense skate moms watching tots barely old enough to tie their laces looping endless figure eights around each other, while precocious teenagers nailed double Axels to the mwwa-mwwa-waa bassline of Madonna’s “Frozen.”

The second rink with a claim to fame, Aliso Viejo Ice Palace, is where Westwood native Sasha Cohen skates. (What is it about hot, snowless Southern California that produces so many ice queens?) It’s not as posh as East West, it’s out in the middle of nowhere (sorry, Aliso Viejo) and its bare-bones locker rooms and scruffy rental skates have frankly seen better days — it’s less an ice palace than an ice barracks. But like Cohen herself, what it lacks in cold, hard technical force it makes up for in heart. Families stumble around on the ice on weekends, boys swoop into the place in droves for hockey, and kids throwing birthday parties flail about with their friends. As for figure skating, they will give you lessons, and they will sharpen your blades, and that’s about it. When she’s not out touring in shows, Cohen usually skates in the morning during the private freestyle time slot, and if you ask nicely, the bored guy at the front check-in table might let you sneak in to watch the most artistic skater the world has seen thus far practice her salchows. (As one announcer said during the last Winter Olympics, Cohen doesn’t just skate to “Romeo and Juliet,” sheis Juliet.) There’s no fancy gym at Aliso Viejo, only light and ice. No matter. Every true snow princess knows that’s all you really need.

East West Ice Palace: 11446 Artesia Blvd., Artesia, (562) 809-6200. ?www.eastwesticepalace.com.

Aliso Viejo Ice Palace: 9 Journey, Aliso Viejo, (949) 643-9648. www.avicepalace.com.

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