Is Like-Ice the answer for cheap skates?

Interested in ice-skating for half the price? Then Like-Ice might be nice.

The synthetic ice from Germany made its U.S. debut this week at New York City's Stadia Design & Technology Expo for stadium operators and suppliers. It got my attention because my wife and daughter skated on plastic ice at a Los Angeles hotel last Christmas, declaring it slow and inauthentic.

But that was a competitor whose technology is entirely different, Joseph J. Murphy, the president of Smart Turf Solutions, told WalletPop. The competitor's gliding capacity depended on the blade heating the surface to lessen the friction so the skate could advance. It is noticeably slower than real ice. Like-Ice, a mixture of polyethylene "and different additives and nanotechnologies," declares the brochure, is naturally slick and just a smidge slower than the frozen stuff, he said.

It's also naturally cheaper for operators and consumers. Operators can charge less because "they're not passing on the cost of refrigeration and Zambonis," Murphy said. How much less? "Better than 50%," he answered as a figure skater twirled around a jigsaw-puzzle patch of Like-Ice in the middle of Javits Convention Center.

Chelsea Piers' Sky Rink, a modern facility in New York City with old-fashioned frozen water, charges $13 for one session without skate rental. Imagine paying $7.50 or less in all weather and all settings, even the beach, if Like-Ice proliferates, as Murphy believes it will.

Murphy hopes Like-Ice will thaw the recession-hardened budgets of venue owners who are looking for additional revenue streams. Just as ballparks now routinely include diversions for fans such as tee-ball and batting cages at the Mets' Citi Field, Murphy thinks Like-Ice could for example be placed in the lobby of Madison Square Garden on the nights when the Rangers play. Skanska, the builder of the new stadium for the Giants and Jets, has already inquired about Like-Ice, Murphy said.

The guy has no problem thinking big. He told WalletPop that he could envision Rockefeller Center operating its famous ice rink year-round -- with traditional ice for the cold months, Like-Ice for the rest.

At $20 a square foot with a six-year guarantee, it could also substitute as the real deal for high school and college hockey programs on financial thin ice, or even as a temporary solution for figure skaters.

Said Murphy: "Ice time anywhere is very limited."

So are many skaters' bank accounts. Let's roll the dice on Like-Ice.
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