In the summertime, the Buckskill Winter Club in East Hampton is the Buckskill Tennis Club, but in December, everything changes. The tennis courts are transformed into a regulation-sized skating rink, complete with local advertisements on a wooden fence that runs around the rink enclosing two hockey goals. Refrigeration units keep the rink frozen, even when the outside temperature isn’t so low.
The Buckskill Winter Club is one of the great success stories in the Hamptons. It faced much adversity when it was first proposed by owner Douglas DeGroot in 2004, with many nearby residents complaining they didn’t want to have to put up with the noise of children laughing and having a good time. A legal battle ensued, and it was almost embarrassing to this writer to watch the process unfold, ending in a gleeful victory for the Buckskill Winter Club and the subsequent opening of its doors to the public. It drew customers of a wide age range, from young teenagers playing ice hockey, to young girls learning figure skating, to toddlers putting on ice skates for the first time, to parents just trying to keep from falling down on the ice.
What had been the clubhouse of the tennis club was transformed to one of the most charming scenes that the Hamptons has to offer in the wintertime—a warming hut.
Little kids wobble around on ice skates, while adults sip hot chocolate on three large couches by a fireplace. If it’s a hockey hour, there will be some people putting on hockey pads while a skate sharpener buzzes in the background. We all know that during this time of year, it’s tough to find outdoor activities that provide good old-fashioned family fun. Well, here is one. Some parents bring their little kids there three or four days a week because it is such a charming place to be.
These days, Buckskill is using the U.S. Figure Skating Association approved Basic Skills Program for its new and improved skating program. Each student enrolled will become a member of the U.S.F.S.A. and will receive membership patches and a record book to track individual progress. There are also adult and junior hockey teams now, all organized and run by the players, complete with team names, referees and healthy competition.
I’ve been to the Buckskill Winter Club many times. Every single time I am there, I am charmed by it. One of the best times to go is during a free skate, where anybody can go out on the ice and simply skate around the big circle. You can easily work up a sweat doing this, but you can also just take it easy and have a nice, albeit active, conversation. If you don’t have your own ice skates you can rent them there, and if you fall in love with the place, Buckskill offers a season pass that allows you to go skating whenever they are open.
The staff includes Jessie Kellis, a figure skating director who used to skate competitively. There is also Ashley Pulito, who works there as a figure-skating instructor and earned herself a U.S.F.S.A. Double Gold Medalist certification. Then there is Daniella Candela, who has nine years of competitive figure-skating experience, and Emma Dahl, a student at East Hampton High School who also works at Buckskill as a figure-skating instructor.
None of this would have been possible if it weren’t for East Hampton resident Douglas DeGroot, who pretty much single-handedly, in the face of great opposition, was able to make this a wonderful place for East Hampton.