Sep 15, 2011

I thought there was safety in numbers

Well, not in figure skating. There is nothing more terrifying than a public skating session the Sunday after Christmas.

At some rinks, practice ice can be packed to the gills as well--even though you're paying a premium for restricted ice, this can still mean 20 to 30 skaters, plus their coaches, and they don't skate in a nice predictable circle like happens on public.

So how do you skate safe on a crowded session?

Public Ice
Follow the rules!
Don't skate against the flow. Don't cut across the coned section. Don't do knee slides, or crack the whip. Don't shoot pucks, or small children. Don't wear ear buds, or talk on the cell phone. In other words, use common sense.

Practice ice
This one's a little more complicated, but starts the same--follow the rules. Which means know the rules. Ask a coach what the rules are. This can also have the affect of making the coach remind herself what the rules are, since coaches are often the worst offenders (and frankly a coach that tells you, don't worry about it we make our own rules--giant waving red flag.) Pattern, right-of-way, and priority will vary somewhat from rink to rink, but here are some common sense rules to follow.

Right of way
In general, the person whose music is playing has the right of way. At a well-run session, this person will be wearing a bright pinney or belt. At a stupidly run session, you are somehow just supposed to know who is skating to their own music. Following that, a person in a lesson has the right of way over someone there for practice. The person doing the jump or spin in the proper place has the right of way over someone doing a non-music runthrough of their program (i.e. if your program has a jump or spiral choreographed in the center where everyone is spinning, you have to yield to the spin).

Don't stand still
The worst thing you can do on crowded ice--public or practice-- is stop and stand in the middle of the ice. If you have to stop, get over to the boards. Do not give me the excuse that you're "trying to see where the skater is going to go." Straight into you is where, because no one expects immovable objects in the middle of the rink.

Lefty jumpers get the right of way. Do not cut off their jump patterns.

Lutz corner
The lutz corners are upstage right and downstage left. Never give a lesson, or practice small patterns in these corners, you will drive the people working on lutz, and their coaches, into a murderous rage. (Left jumpers use the other corners; if there are a lot of left jumpers on a session you also cannot use these corners, but with just a couple lefties on a session, just be aware and get out of the way--lutz setups telegraph a mile away.)

Round and round and round and....
Don't stay in one little circle practicing the same move over and over and over. If you have to practice some small pattern, move it around the rink. Better yet, start learning how to "use the ice," i.e. use at least half the ice on all jump set ups, do turns within moves patterns, etc. Adult skaters are particularly guilty of this one.

Lower level or upper level skaters?
Lower level skaters get the right of way. Period. I don't give a shit about your triple flip. If there's a skater working on waltz jumps they clearly do not have the tools you have at your disposal to pull a jump and not cause a crash. Do not role your eyes, or complain to the monitor, or your mother, or stamp your little foot. Lower level skaters are a fact of life unless you are in a serious training program. If you're not, then get over yourself and stop frightening the babies.

Friends, and coaching groups
When you're skating with a friend, or if your coach does group lessons on practice sessions, it is very easy to get tunnel vision, and to see only your own group. Don't let the group be an ice hog, pissing everyone else off. Understand that group activities, even when parsed out a skater at a time, have a tendency to command the ice. If 15 skaters are all skating the same set pattern, even if they're only going out one or 2 at a time, they are going to create a vortex that no one else can skate through. Be sensitive to this if you're part of a group.

Get up
If you fall, get up, even if you're hurt. Your prone body is the skating equivalent of a pothole--no one is expecting you, and you're hard to see down there.

Stick with it
Practice ice is terrifying the first few times out there. It looks like chaos. But a session has its own sense and pattern, which you will only start to understand when you are out there. Stay with it, and learn to go, as they say, with the flow.


  1. Our daughter used to be part of an ISI Team Compulsory group, which she really enjoyed, until the club decided that it wasn't going to allow them to practice on contract ice, so the team disbanded. They always practiced on an early Saturday morning contract session that wasn't well attended. The coach couldn't secure reasonable alternate practice ice and it became too expensive for the skaters to continue (the club wouldn't help her secure practice ice). A few skaters from the group formed Couple Spotlight groups but coaches also complained about them practicing on contract ice. The Team Compulsory group consisted of high level skaters who were well aware of the skaters around them and the rules of the ice. It was mostly the low level skaters who were freaked out by them being on the ice. (There are no leveled ice sessions at this rink.) What would you suggest that clubs do to encourage ISI ensemble groups? How do other rinks handle practice ice for these kind of events (or events that involve ribbons, hoops and balls which seem to me to be potentially dangerous for other skaters on the ice)?

  2. Group lessons, and in particular choreographed groups are pretty much impossible on freestyle ice. When you have more than 2-4 skaters on the same pattern they just own it. It's not fair to the rest of the skaters on the ice. I'm not going to budge on this, because I live with it every day. Group lessons of more than 3-4 skaters at a time should not be allowed on singles practice ice; even sending the kids out only 3 at a time does not work, because if you have 5 groups of 3 going out and all skating the same pattern, that's pretty much the only pattern that can be skated.

    Theater on Ice, Team Skating, Synchro, Dance, Pairs, are all specialty skills that are going to cost you more money, and they should. They require, as you learned, different needs on practice ice, dedicated sessions, etc. What happened with you was that the rink did not see the value in the program; they could have just dedicated that ice to you at a premium, but still cheaper than renting the ice. Instead, they pissed off a lot of families, and probably lost a lot of customers. If you were more than 75% of the kids on the ice, then I don't really understand their logic. But if you were half or fewer, then they had to choose who to piss off.

  3. They were 7 skaters in the TC group and there were 4 contracted skaters on that session when they all showed up. The TC group members were each paying random ice fees, the highest fee the club charges for ice.

    Not only did this annoy the TC parents and the coach but the club lost their most practiced and polished small group number for ice show. This group didn't require any additional choreography, music editing, costuming or practice ice for ice show. They arrived at technical rehearsals ready to go. This group was always well rehearsed and the choreography was adorable (the coach has a degree in theater production).

  4. Yeah, that makes no sense to me.

  5. Round and round- I am so guilty of this. When a session goes from scary to total chaos I just stay in one spot and practice backspins.

  6. Good stuff Xan. I would have mentioned.. don't hog the CD player!

  7. Ha-good point, although that's not a safety so much as an etiquette issues (and a good topic for a post!)

  8. How do you feel about round and round and round on public ice? At my rink, public sessions -- especially the lunchtime ones on weekdays -- tend to have just a few older skaters (one or two on speed skates, earnest-and-awkward on hockey skates, elderly-and-graceful on figure skates, and me) plus a few preschoolers careening around absolutely clueless about anyone around them. When it's just the adults, we all manage to use the whole ice and stay out of each other's ways just fine. But I always feel like my safest spot to work on anything if there are more than two preschoolers on the ice is one of the hockey circles...around and around and around...because anywhere besides the corners, I'm liable to get cut off by a four-year-old who didn't notice me. Does that make sense? Or ought I to be doing something else?

    And, as a side note, at what point does it become okay to point out to a not-on-the-ice parent that his/her precious tot needs to be skating counter-clockwise like the rest of us, rather than against traffic or in careening x-patterns? I don't want to be rude. But I also don't want to be crashed.

  9. "Lefty jumpers get the right of way." I wish this was true for my rink. I am the only lefty skater there and It's really hard to find a place for jumping - especially for the lutz.

  10. These guidelines are meant for *crowded* sessions. On empty session, just use common sense. Lefty jumpers have the right of way is an old old rule, shared with me by an older skater (even older than me, haha), along with the one where at the end of the session if you've left massive divots in the ice, you go get some slush and fill them. This also never happens, because skaters today tend to be selfish and insular and the coaches tolerate it. But that's just my opinion.

  11. Ice Palace in Hawaii still has this policy. You can see kids with buckets after the sessions doing their thing. It's pretty cool.

    DS will do this at his rink when he makes the divots. Guess he was trained well by his coach. :)

  12. The first time I encountered those left-over massive divots, I didn't even know what they were. Neither did the hockey coach teaching a lesson beside my practice. We both figured something was terribly wrong with the incompetent new Zamboni driver that he was leaving potholes in the ice. A bucket of slush would have been helpful. ;)

  13. A coach was teaching two high level skaters up to double flip today, and they were taking turns to skate and jump, and were (corectly) using half ice to set up their jumps. Trouble is, even with only two, this meant no one else could use that half of the ice.

    At my regular rink, I don't know of any lefty skaters. At another rink I skate at literally half the kids (more in some groups!) are lefty. If there's only one or two lefty jumpers, you see them setting up and give them priority, fine. But if there's lots, then ALL the circles become unusable because of people doing lutzes! Usually the centre circle is being used for lessons (field moves or inconsiderate coaches hogging the centre to teach spins), so what happens then?

    Finally, who has priority out of private lesson wiht one skate or private group lesson?

  14. "Lefty jumpers get the right of way. Do not cut off their jump patterns."

    Oh if only! If this happens at the rink, I will be baking some treats for whoever achieves the feat.

    "I would have mentioned.. don't hog the CD player!"

    Or hit it with a baseball bat. Or steal it.

  15. The center on practice ice *is* for spins. That is not "hogging" the center, that is standard operating procedure. The only person who should be in the center when not spinning is the one whose music is being played. Coaches should NEVER stand out on the ice surface with their students during a crowded session. Teach from the boards when its crowded (and even when it's not crowded). Yes, if a lot of people are doing lefty lutzes, no one can use any of the corners. Live with it. Lessons should move around crowded ice, they should not just stay in one place, for instance the center circle. THAT is the rude thing to do. I personally believe that you should not do group lessons with more than 3-4 kids on crowded practice ice, but if you do, you should only send out 3-4 at a time, and you have to vary the pattern every 4 skaters so they don't create an impenetrable wall of pattern. /soapbox