Throw a winter party at The Chiller Easton.

"It's hard to find something to do for a party in the middle of winter," said Jennifer Justice, "but both the boys liked this idea a lot."

Justice was hanging out in the front lobby of the Chiller Easton with husband Brett. Their twin sons, Will and Connor, were greeting their second-grade buddies as they arrived for the big No. 8 birthday celebration.

The party - yet another one of those "turn-key" options in the Central Ohio area for kids' birthdays where the venue provides everything from invitations to food to cleanup - was unusual in that the kids ate and opened presents first, and then tore into the headliner activity of ice skating.

The strategy, said The Chiller's Jeremy Rogers, "allows the kids more skating time - since they skate at public skating sessions with this option, they can stay on the ice until the end of the session."

One of the four time slots available for birthday parties on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays has the skating first, said Rogers, but most people like the other schedule more.

But there was also some parent-appreciated wisdom to the eat-first, skate-second arrangement: It's chilly in there. The ice temperature stays around 20 to 23 degrees, which means the air temperature never rises above 50, said staff members. The kids (and the grownups) never took their coats off during the two-hour party time, but they sure did get hot and sweaty out there on the ice. To go from that to an hour of eating and present opening might have left them shivering by party's end, rather than pleasantly tuckered out and ready to head home.

Later, Justice said she also liked the fact that the kids got their "sitting down time" done early, plus so many parents joined them in skating.

A few helpful hints that Justice passed on - have the kids wear gloves or mittens out on the ice because "they will fall down," and also know that you "will not be the only ones out of the ice. That didn't bother the kids at all, but it might concern some parents."

As for the need to invite only seasoned skaters to make this kind of party successful, Justice said absolutely not: "Most of them didn't really know how to skate, but they had a blast."

Cost: $15 per child, 10 minimum (and they've hosted up to 50 guests). This fee includes birthday table, food and drink (like pizza or hot dogs, ice-cream cups, pop and lemonade, birthday cake), skate rental and free skating for accompanying adults. Some of the extras available are goodie bags ($3.50 each) and a private party room ($25) which is a little warmer to hang out in. The other parties are hosted on an elevated area overlooking the two rinks at each Chiller location.

Available Time Slots: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Fridays (not recommended for kids under 8 because the open skate time period attracts a lot of fast-moving teens), 12:30-2:30 p.m. Saturdays, 1:30-3:30 p.m. Sundays are all "eat first and skate second" time slots. 3:30-5:30 p.m. Saturdays is "skate first and eat second."

Locations: The above time slots are always available at The Chiller locations in Dublin, Easton and Lewis Center. Other time slots may be available at the Ice Haus in downtown Columbus.
For more information: Call 614-791-9999 ext. 323, or e-mail birthdays@thechiller.com. You can also visit The Chiller website at thechiller.com.