Tuesday, August 23, 2005


Ice time

I’m a pretty good ice skater. I can skate forwards and backwards, and turn from forwards to backwards or back pretty fast, and come to a hard, quick stop. I can glide from one end of the rink to the other (goal line to goal line) on one skate. I can skate the face-off circles with crossovers, forwards or backwards. But it turns out that ice skating is one of those sports, like golf or skiing, in which mastery is a lifetime quest, in which the proficient can find themselves perpetually stuck in the “intermediate rut,” and in which improvement is always possible.

For the serious recreational skater determined to improve his skating skills, the biggest challenge is finding “ice time” to practice. Skating rinks are heavily used – booked at around $200 per hour by recreational hockey teams, high school tournaments, figure skating instruction groups, youth hockey clinics and the like. Most rinks will hold no more than a couple of hours a day for “open skating,” when individual skaters can get on the ice for a few dollars and skate in a circle (oval, actually) around the rink.

I’ve been hunting around all summer for open skating. The rinks, which are not high profit margin operations, maintain at best sketchy web sites, don’t have employees answering their phones, and are generally not great about publicizing their skating schedules. There’s a lot of driving out to rinks only to find a bevy of 12 year olds on figure skates swirling around a much taller skater (their instructor); I then have to hunt down the Zamboni driver who will confirm that there’s no open skating today.

To get in my ice time, I’ve resorted to two local open skating sessions. The free family skate for an hour on Thursday afternoons (sponsored by a regional fast-food chain), features about 120 kids from toddlers to 12 year olds of all skating abilities: stumbling about with “training chairs” or darting through traffic like Wayne Gretzky, often bursting unpredictably through or against the flow of traffic. In this setting you can work on certain skills – like skating slowly in control, and keeping yourself out of local news headlines (“Large Hulking Man Kills Helpless Toddler in Ice Rink Collision”).

Photos: random skating images downloaded from the web.
I don't know any of these people, but I wish
they'd just stay the hell out of my way.

The other open “ice time” is the “Friday Nite Disco Skate with DJ.” This is a great skating opportunity, lasting three hours from 7 to 10 p.m., as long as you can avoid (1) the 14-15 year-olds who stand on their skates in clumps of 5-6, all arms-folded and flirting with each other; (2) the two teenage boys who may burst out of any one of those clumps at unpredictable moments to race each other to the other end of the rink. Bambi mating behavior on ice, if you will. This is made extra challenging by the semi-gloom, since the regular flood lights are turned off, with only a smattering of colored “disco lights” going. (There’s no DJ, by the way, unless those are the initials of the rink employee who turns sets the radio station on the loudspeaker.)

So I’m as dedicated to improving my skating as ice time is hard to come by. I quickly realized that the way to break out of this dilemma was to bite the bullet and sign up for skating classes. I went on line and found tons of hockey clinics. For “mites” and “pee wees.” There were also clinics advertized for “adults,” but this is apparently hockey clinic lingo meaning “serious high school players.”

Finally, I found the Power Skating clinic, offered to “skaters” who are “11 and up.” I called the toll free number. “How old is ‘up’?” As old as you want, was the reply. I signed up.

Tomorrow: the Power Skating Clinic

Oh wow! I love ice skating! That's been one of my greatest sources of anticipation in moving here. Surely, I'll be able to find some place to ice skate this winter. Lakes just don't freeze over in Kentucky.

I think Bambi on ice is a good way to describe that flirting :) Though it's pretty similar in roller rinks too.
I have not skated in more years than I care to confess. I was not good. My ankles always made an "X."
I'm a terrible skater despite a winter of lessons in high school. But we used to go to open skate at one of the rinks around here, before the kids came around. I'm thinking of signing my son up for skating lessons. Except then he'd want to play hockey... Ack!
After moving to Birmingham, AL for an academic position I was delighted to discover the nicest public ice rink I have ever seen. For my $6 I usually share the rink with about five people. If you are ever in town, check it out.
SG: I've never been to Madison, but I hear Tenney Park is nice for winter skating. KathyR: That "weak ankles" thing may be a myth. I bet I could get you skating in a week! PS: What's wrong with hockey? Anon: I'm booking my tickets now. I figure, if I get out and skate there about 175 times, the trip will pay for itself!
Nothing wrong with hockey, and he loves it. We go to college hockey games every winter. He's been drawing ice hockey rinks obsessively since he was two-and-a-half. But. My son is going to be 8 inches shorter and half the weight of his peers. (Literally. I've scanned the rosters of our local college teams, and even the most lightweight player is 40-50 lbs. heavier than my son is likely to be in high school and college.)

I'm not thrilled about him planning to go into *any* contact sport, but hockey seems like the quickest way to get himself killed.

I'm hoping to encourage him to think about sports broadcasting as an alternative to death on the ice rink. It worked for his father...
You've never been to Madison?

What is that all about?
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