Stepping on the ice for the first time: what to expect
While I have been skating off and on for over 40 years, competing in numerous events and now coaching adult skaters, I remember the first time I stepped on the ice. He was only nine years old and was very excited to experience ice for the first time. Of course, back then I wasn’t doing it for the physical and psychological benefits of sport. I didn’t know about that, I just wanted to slide in and have a good time, the way all those figure skaters seemed to have fun on TV. Little did I know that when I took those first hesitant steps, I was beginning a lifelong love affair with the sport of ice skating!
That first day, I had no idea what to expect. I had skated a lot in my neighborhood, but had a feeling that ice skating would be totally different. Because there are so many unknowns when learning a new sport or hobby, I’d like to share with you my initial experiences back then and how much things have changed today for beginners. More importantly, I’d like to share with you what, as a new skater, you can expect when you first venture out on the ice.
I still remember that day when my mother took me to the ice rink one summer afternoon. We drove up to this great old building with a sign that said, “Ballard Ice Arena” on it, in big blue letters. The ice rink was located in Seattle, Washington, in an older part of the city, so the building had that old-fashioned look you’d expect from the Rocky movies. When we open the door, I remember looking into a gloomy hallway and not impressed. It looked much older on the inside of the building than on the outside. Talk about vintage!
I walked over to the skate counter with my mom by my side to get my first pair of rental skates, and I almost laughed when I was handed these very unappealing blue skates. They were nothing like the beautiful, glamorous white skates I envisioned. They seemed to have been through a war, with many giant feet!
When I sat down and started to tie my skating boots, it felt like they were two foreign objects stuck to my feet and not like a comfortable pair of sneakers. They put pressure on my feet in all the wrong places and they felt quite heavy for a 9 year old. Then when I first got up, I remember thinking, “How the hell do people walk with these things, much less skate with them?”
Slowly, and very cautiously, I proceeded to stagger down the hall toward the ice with my ankles trying to balance on the very thin blade, trying not to look like the beginner I was. I remember how musty the air smelled as well, as it made its way towards the ice, but still had a clean, crisp quality, due to the cold temperature. It is still a scent that I love, even today, for all the beautiful memories I associate with it.
Ahhh, finally! I was there! I could see the flash of ice in front of me as I got closer.
When I stepped on the ice … I immediately grabbed onto the railing to hang on to my life! Yes, I knew the ice was slippery but wow, it was really slippery! “Wow,” I thought, “how is this better than rollerblading?” I stayed there for a minute or so to feel things and see how to balance on the surface of the ice.
As the blades began to feel better, I slowly began to shuffle forward, in a walking-like motion. I was still hanging from the railing, but as I went, I realized that skating forward was a lot like skating. So, I started to push a bit with one foot while skating. It got easier and easier as I progressed until I was finally able to let go of the railing.
While balancing on skates was initially challenging, what surprised me is how easy it was to maneuver. Much easier than skates! It could rotate in various directions easily and the glide felt almost effortless. This is a feeling that I could learn to love, I thought.
But like the exterior pavement, the ice was not completely flat. Because the rink was old and there was a small drip coming from the roof, the moisture froze and eventually accumulated in bumps in certain parts of the ice, especially around the rim. I remember going over the potholes and it seemed a bit like the ski moguls to me, something to be avoided at all costs! Hey, I just learned to balance myself; Anything more than that was too much!
However, after a while, I got used to the feeling of ice, and it seemed to get easier the more I relaxed. While falling was still a clear possibility, I seemed to be able to balance myself quite well. So I kept skating for about 45 minutes or so before having to sit down to rest next to my mother. He asked me if I liked it and I said, “I love it!” My mom was very happy for me as she found a new activity for her daughter so she wouldn’t get into trouble over the summer!
As I was lounging on the sidelines, I saw slightly older skaters perform all kinds of cool spins and jumps in the middle of the track. They were amazing! I laughed to myself as I struggled to stand up and skate forward on these gadgets called “ice skates”, and here these kids were practically dancing on the ice! I remember thinking how much I would love to learn how to do that!
Well that first experience may have been a long time ago, but I can still relate to new skaters and the challenges of getting started in a new sport. Of course, it was different for me as a child than it was for my adult students. But I have to say that after looking back, nothing would have changed. Skating has been a big part of my life and a great passion. However, a lot has changed in skating and, like all sports, it has evolved, thank goodness!
One big change is that today’s ice rinks don’t tend to be dirty and old but are generally freestanding buildings, part of a sports complex, or smaller venues in shopping malls. They are often well kept and beautiful. Back then, it was a different culture. The rinks were often family owned and there was a certain amount of prestige associated with learning to skate in a dreary place and ending up in a big, glamorous competition. It was mostly about competition, and amenities beyond the basics were thought to soften you up. Hey, if you couldn’t skate in a dilapidated building with just the essentials, how could you withstand the pressure of a huge crowd at a competition?
The ice was different too. Today, many rinks have more than one layer of ice and are open all year round. There are even some outdoor tracks, like a place in Vail, Colorado. I once skated at an outdoor skating rink in Canada in a park surrounded by a shopping area that was quite nice, and I had a friend who skated on a rink in New York that she claimed was in a very old building! above the city! The track was suspended on one of the floors of the building with windows all around it. That’s a far cry from the tracks of 40 years ago.
Today, the ice is usually as beautiful as the slopes. It is often cleaned every hour and a half to two hours on most tracks so there should be no bumps on the ice and the temperature is maintained so they don’t drip off the roof creating the obstacle course I experienced on the old track Ballard ice cream. . And surprisingly, the temperatures on most of the slopes are quite warm.
However, the only thing that is still questionable is the skating equipment, specifically the rental ice skates.
Some rinks have great rental skates and maintain them well, while others … well … not so much! As a coach, this bothers me because a lot of people get discouraged if the team wears out, because it causes pain for the new skater and they don’t stick with the sport long enough to give it a try. Skaters often give up, thinking that it is their ankles that are the problem, rather than poor equipment that does not support the foot properly. (A little trick to help with that is to wear ACE bandages to wrap the ankle for support before putting on the skate for extra support.)
The sport has grown a lot and the environment on the skating rinks has changed a lot, making the experience for beginners much more rewarding. Many rinks even have games and amenities in the lobbies, like bars and skate shops. They are quite nice today and do a lot more to make the beginner feel welcomed and appreciated.
Ice skating is a wonderful sport and has something for everyone and people of all ages. I did most of my skating as an adult and it kept me fit and in good shape for years. It’s a great exercise! But it is also a sport that builds character, teaches grace, and makes you strong. And it’s a lot of fun! I invite people of all ages to try this sport and see the difference it makes in their lives; physically and psychologically.