Mar 24, 2012

How to practice on public skating

There are two kinds of ice: Public, and Practice.

Package ice is also sometimes called "practice" ice, and is run by the club or the rink, but the key point is that it isn't public-- there are restrictions based on skating level, club or class enrollment, and number of people allowed on the ice at any given session (generally fewer than 30, not counting coaches).

In the Chicago area, where ice is abundant, one rarely needs to resort to the public sessions, because the restricted ice is cheap-- generally under $10 an hour, and often as little as $5. It's simple economics--the rinks are packed so tightly that they have to keep this ice cheap to attract customers.

But many skaters have to resort to the public, unrestricted sessions, because of access, schedule, cost or other factors.

And then you're dealing with
  • the unsteady dad carrying his screaming toddler
  • the hotdogging teens
  • the hockey dads screaming at their 8 year-olds to "just plow right through them if they're too slow!" (true story)
  • the giggly high schoolers flirting with the guards (who are flirting right back, thus ignoring the above situations)
and of course, crowds.

So how do you practice on a crowded, minimally supervised session where the mission is, of course, not to accommodate serious work, but simple family fun?

The center area
Even in minimally crowded public sessions, the guards will "cone off" or can be asked to cone off, a large center area that is reserved for practice and lessons. You're probably not going to be trying axels in there, but you can work on most Moves patterns, basic skating, spins, and even single rotation jumps. The people in the center watch out for each other.

But kids keep cutting through the center area
And you don't have to tolerate it. Police it yourself, or ask a guard. Every rink I've ever seen has rules posted, and one of them is always "no cutting through the center coned area."

Skating with the hoi poloi
In all but the most crowded sessions, you can actually get a fair amount done even outside the cones--you can certainly work on stroking, and you can get a good aerobic session in. Depending on the tolerance of the guards (which we have established is fairly high), you can work on edges and turns in the end zones.

What about the guards?
I wonder this myself. For the most part, they are high school hockey players who don't quite get the policing aspect of the job-- they can tend to view it as a chance to flirt, hot dog with their non-guard friends, and generally ignore the bloody mayhem around them. At least at places like the Ice Rink of the Damned they receive no training, and I don't think that's unusual. However, if you bring clear rule infractions to their attention (like crack-the-whips, backward spirals, dangerous hotdogging, cutting through the cones, etc.) they will generally step in. There is also often an adult guard semi in-charge who can be appealed to.

Use some common sense
If you show up at a Sunday afternoon session in January expecting to finally nail that flip, think again. Winter weekends are going to be crowded. Don't go, or if you do, don't get all bent out of shape because the people there don't understand that you are a serious skater and they are just wasting your time. Public sessions can be great for practicing, but they are not meant for that.

Alternate times
Weekend afternoons are going to be crowded in the winter. But not in the summer! Rinks are empty in the summer, and even starting around spring break time they begin to empty out. It's an ongoing mystery to me why skaters continue to attend the crowded practice ice sessions all summer, when public ice just sits there.  If you're lucky enough to work or go to school close to a rink, think about using your lunch hour to skate a couple times a week. Most rinks have midday sessions, sometimes restricted to adults even, that are empty all year round.  (Just be aware of school holidays)

How have you made public skating sessions work as practice time?


  1. "you can work on most Moves patterns"

    If the center is nearly empty, maybe you can fit some eights, or do patterns that are only half the width of the rink. But on the whole, doing moves in the center cones does not seem practical to me.

    "The people in the center watch out for each other."


    1. "work on" Moves patterns ≠ "run" Moves patterns. You can work on turns, loops, and twizzles in isolation in the center area easily.

      As far as watching out for each, I suppose a caveat is in order, i.e. "more than the hotdoggers in the outer ring will" ;)

  2. Here in AZ it's the opposite. Public sessions are relatively uncrowded in the winter, but in the summer they are jam-packed as people try to escape the heat.

    1. This phenomenon in Chicago has always mystified me. Come skate in the summer! It's nice and cool!

    2. I've always wondered the same thing when public skaters flock to the rink when it is freezing. But I guess the problem is that there isn't much else to do in the winter, and well, no matter what, you're going to be cold.

      In the summer, even in the painful heat and humidity- there are lots of things to do.

  3. One of my coaches has a seemingly-endless supply of edge drills and jump drills, many of which require only a small patch of ice. So I work on those on crowded public sessions, leaving me more time to work on everything else on practice ice.

  4. We only have a guard at public sessions on the weekend, during the day there are rarely more than 10 people on the ice on the time, and I'm lucky enough to be homeschooled. I can't go to the weekend public sessions though, the guards are just so cute I know I won't get anything done. The guards are REALLY good at their jobs though, and even if they are talking (or flirting...) they are constantly paying attention to everyone around them and will not hesitate to leave the conversation to do their job. Just defending some really cute guards that get a bad wrap because they are 18 year-old hockey players

  5. DS used to use public ice to skate, but he is sort of home schooled, so was able to take advantage of the less crowded times. He hasn't been for a while because of his school schedule this year, but I really liked it when he could.

    Aside from it being sooooo, he was skating with moms pushing strollers (yes, on the ice), teens and kids who were recreational skaters, little toddlers, adults and hockey players. A huge diverse crowd.

    Personally, I wanted him to remember that skating the way he does is a privilege, not to be taken for granted. It gave him a much needed perspective that he doesn't get when he only skates freestyle with other competitive skaters. I feel that this is valuable in helping him to remember the love of skating, and not to get lost in the competitiveness of it all. Seeing people on public skate smiling, falling, having a blast, mastering basic skills, socializing and just plain loving what they are doing is great medicine.

    It also helped him to remember that everyone has a right to skate on the ice, and how to skate with awareness.

    He has met some really amazing adult skaters, and skating families. They are very different from the competitive crowd and have been super supportive of his efforts (not to say that he hasn't met people like this on FS ice of course).

    Even now, after learn to skate, he insists on staying on the ice during the most chaotic session of the evening to skate around, it drives me nuts with all the skaters buzzing around, but he enjoys the energy.

    BTW, it worked for him most of the time because the ice was not too crowded. He could do everything he normally would during a FS session. There were times when there were field trips, etc, so he really had to adjust, but it's all a part of life. If he was training for a competition, he would just stick to freestyle (practice) ice.

  6. Hi Xan,

    I used to have really mixed feelings about my daughter skating a public session. For one thing it seemed to be potentially rather dangerous: say she dropped into a sit spin and some three year old little tike got too close... yikes!

    On the other side of the argument though: public sessions were where many young gals got to see an actual competitive skater up close. When she was around twelve my daughter had really fast and tightly centered spins. She'd fire one off at a public session and then have four little girls standing next to her in awe afterwards.

    So overall I think it's good for the sport, as long as you are very, very careful.

    -- Jeff

    1. The Same AnonymousMarch 24, 2012 at 11:40 PM

      I agree with your view on seeing competitive skaters. When I first started skating it impressed me if someone was wearing figure skates and could do a crossover. Since I've started figure skating, it's also fun to "show off" a bit with a spin or waltz jump, knowing the kids watching are also enjoying it (and that it might encourage more people into the sport!).

  7. Here in the suburbs of Boston, MA, I have NEVER seen a coned off area for the figure skaters in the middle, and I've only seen one rink with posted rules stating that the center is for figure skating. However, it mostly works well - the figure skaters do spins and small moves in the center, and manage to deal with the kids randomly cutting through the center.

    One advantage to the lack of rules, is that when the crowds are light enough to make this safe, I can do jumps (like waltz jumps and salchows) in the corners of the rink with a nice backward crossover entry. (I'm SUPER careful about this, and have never even come CLOSE to hitting anyone.)

    Around here, public skates cost $5 for adults ($3 for kids) for a session that is 90 - 110 minutes long, and "freestyle" ice costs $15 for a 50 minute session. I can hit super quiet daytime public sessions for my own skating (some have around a 12 person max on the ice at any given time), but for my daughter (who just started skating this winter), I take her to weekend public sessions. Even with the weekend crowds, I can get in some useful practice, but it does help to keep your expectations low, so that you are more likely to be pleased.

    There are two rinks in my area that do NOT allow ANY jumps or spins during public sessions, and one of them doesn't even allow backward skating - I don't know if the backward restriction is really enforced - maybe they allow backward crossover practice in the center section - I have no desire to skate at such a rink.

    1. I confess, the only rinks I've ever seen are in the Midwest, where coning off the center is SOP.

    2. Not all the midwest. We don't get cones (or rules- back spiral, triple jumps? All allowed on publics at my rink.) No guards either.

      We did have cones in Texas, and one of the rinks I visited in New Jersey had cones too.

  8. We don't really have skate guards here, and there are quite a few skaters high Basic and low freestyle who use the sessions. I'm One Of Those Skating Moms who reminds them that the skaters on public ice don't all abide by freestyle session rules, and as "trained" skaters, they bear more responsibility for being safe. They take it pretty well, and yes, it's a great way to drum up business for Learn To Skate to have kids do some small jumps and spins, and when asked say, "I learned this at Learn To Skate." :-)

    The only time I tell them "no way" is doing spirals and camel spins. I just think that spinning and moving blades lifted at the face level of little kids on public ice is just asking for all kinds of trouble, even in the center.

  9. In my community, public skating is only effective for freestyle practice in the summer. In the winter, the rink is too full. No backwards skating permitted. No figure skating (not very clear, but I presume it means no jumps or spins). The guards ignore hotdoggers who race around dangerously but try to do forward cross rolls and you'll be told that 'you can't figure skate here'.

    I pay for shinny figure skating ice for my daughter to practice on. Unfortunately it's only available during the day.

    In the summer, the rink is so quiet (maybe 7-10 people) that the guards just let the figure skaters pretty much do what they want. It's basically cheap shinny ice, so I take her there a couple of times a week.

  10. At our rink the rules say "all figure skating must be done in the center, however, the center is NOT reserved for figure skating". Practicing on public is not too bad, though. Taking private lessons is much harder. But unfortunately there are not enough freestyle sessions (after school hours), so my daughters have to take private lessons on public too.

    Maria, mom of 2 skaters: Basic 4 and FreeSkate 5

    1. Really makes me wonder what they think "figure skating" is. Does this mean if you're wearing fs you have to skate in the center?

    2. My interpretation is that all jumps and spins must be done in the center, not where people skate in circles around the rink. My daughter does do (forward) spirals, shoot the ducks, etc., and even various edge and turn patterns for her tests where everybody skates, and nobody says anything.


  11. At my rink, the guards are awesome. They played with the little kids, picking ice and throwing it at each other, and basically keeping them out of people's way while also showing them how to properly skate On the ice. If you are a first timer they show you the duck walk while keeping a close eye on you. They also show tre hockey players how to properly skate on public ice without plowing into others . Basically I love these boys that watch the ice during public, just point them to someone causing trouble and they'll talk to them.

    1. Good guards indicates good management that cares about public sessions. This makes me really happy to hear.

    2. I think management does it to generate more business. Once you've mastered the duck walk, these kids are quick to tell you about the rink's LTS program. That's how I got rope into classes.

    3. I wouldn't be so cynical--this is a manager that gets public skating--make it fun and rewarding for all types of skaters and people support your program.

    4. I'm not. I forgot to add lol to my comment.

  12. My husband used to skate at Fritz Deitl's rink as a boy growing up in New Jersey. You want a skate guard? My husband's overriding memory at that rink was of Fritz himself policing the rink with a baseball bat to keep anyone who dared break the rules in line! I have the luxury of being able to skate on mid-week public ice, and have many times experienced the pure joy of the entire rink all to myself for almost the entire three-hour session. As I am not a confident skater, I'd rather have at least one more soul out there with me, just in case. Nonetheless, it is truly lovely to be able to practice and glide over all of the ice, unrestricted in your movement, with nothing but the wind in your face and the song in your heart for company, and know why it is you love to skate.

  13. Xan, you've hit on some of my pet peeves. I am an adult skater who works full-time is not at the freestyle level. I can only practice at public skates. My biggest annoyance isn't little kids or hotdoggers. It's a certain adult on hockey skates who likes to buzz skaters skating within the cones and guards who don't do anything. At your former rink (the rink of the damned?) I have actually found at least some of the guards to be pretty good, at least at the evening sessions. But at my usual rink (a little further south--figure it out), the guards, who are mostly adults, stand around and talk to each other. On the rare occasions when I have complained, they act like I am a major annoyance. Once they told me that a kid who was deliberately skating too close to me (coming within the cones, even though he was just doing laps), "has ADD." Does that excuse it? Finally, after several more complaints, they finally (with a lot of eye-rolling) got his father who made him behave. Fortunately, I am just skating for fun and fitness. Otherwise, I would probably make a complaint higher up (not that it would do any good).