Aug 15, 2012

Ice time

If there's one common refrain at every rink I've ever skated at it's "Why doesn't [my skating discipline] get more ice?"
Hockey thinks Freestyle is a waste of valuable ice ("there are only 25 kids out there-- why isn't this hockey ice? We'd have 10 kids on the ice at a time, at a discounted price! Uh, wait...")

Freestyle thinks hockey gets free ice ("They schedule ice that they never use! We  should make that dance ice, which would have at least 4 people on it! Maybe. Unless we decide to do off-ice that day.")

Beginner coaches think the freestyle skaters mentally paint targets on the tots. ("They have more ice than anyone! Maybe they could have one session a week without high level kids? And it needs to be the most premium ice right after school. Except I don't need it until after soccer ends. But please reserve it.")
The truth is there isn't enough ice in a typical rink. Private rinks are going to go for the biggest bang for the buck, which is usually hockey because it's cost effective to schedule, even though it's less lucrative on a per-skater basis. Training rinks are going to want enough freestyle ice at premium times to attract high level skaters. Skating schools need practice ice during or after class sessions, to maximize use. Everyone needs public, because that's where most of your new customers come from.

Don't even get me started on the bastard child of skating programs, in other words, Synchro.

The truth is, that rinks need to allocate ice for the best return on investment--how can they maximize use and retain customers? This means that tournament ice needs to be reserved, even if the home team bombs out in the quarter finals, so that the big game never happens. The freestyle skaters need extra ice before the big competitions. Classes and public are cash cows-- you can fit a lot of paying customers onto class ice (as noted above, hockey's going to have 10 kids on the ice, and maybe 20 kids on the boards; freestyle tops out around 30. Classes or public might have 200. Do the math.)

If you're in a small market, you're stuck with the schedule at one or two rinks. If you're in a big market like Chicago, where there are 50 rinks in a 25 mile radius, stop complaining, and start driving.

You can make the schedule at your home rink work, or you can find ice that fits your schedule.

What you can't do is change the equation.

How do you deal with less than optimum scheduling at your home rink?


  1. I'm very thankful for my rink because we do have a lot of freestyle ice. However, I'm an adult and the only ice I can make it to is 8am once or twice a week (they haven't had anything earlier and I'm lucky to have a job that allows me to skate before work). The rest of the morning until 11am is freestyle. There's stick n puck at 1 and then from about 2-5 is more freestyle. We thankfully have enough skaters that the afternoons are able to stay open.

    Hockey get almost all ice from 6 - midnight for games and open hockey, etc. They all say hockey keeps the rink open, but at mine it is closer to 50/50. They are just trying to argue for more ice time. If I had a say and we had more adult skaters, I would push for an evening adults only freestyle session so I could skate once a week after work and not have to fight through the public skate crowd.

    Thankfully, I'm a rink employee, love my rink and have a great relationship with my bosses and their daughters. So if there are ever times in the very early morning on weekends where nothing is scheduled because no one wants to get up that early on a weekend, they let the daughters and I skate the dead ice until there's something in the schedule. I'm also doing some freelance work for the rink and my boss and I might trade the work for some ice time. :)

    But considering this is the only rink within 100 miles and I have to drive over an hour to another rink, I'm pretty darn happy with my rink. I'm incredibly lucky to have a rink 15 minutes from my apartment. And the rink 100 miles away IS a hockey rink. They run on hockey and most of their schedule is hockey.

  2. Thankfully, I'm a recreational adult skater so the two hours of freestyle available each week are good for me, and I go to both of them.

    However, my rink has public skate ALL the time. If you get to know the public schedule, and it isn't Christmas season, you can get fantastic practice ice on publics... some of the highest skaters actually practice then.

    When I did synchro we kept getting pushed later and later in the night for kids hockey (but not too late- that's college hockey) at one point we had the ice from 9:30-10:30 p.m. Then the rink did something I was shocked at- they sold that too. But here is the kicker, and the way the rink told us we were (somewhat) valueable to them. They told us if we took Sunday morning ice (when no employees work, so the rink is usually closed) we could have it for free. We liked free.

  3. Dead ice on sunday mornings is sad to see. All it takes is a coach or two with opening privileges and Bang! you have adult ice. I skated at a rink that had a not written on the schedule secret freestyle invitation only adult ice on sunday at 8am, it was great. It usually had 10-12 people on it (mostly dance). That might not cover ice costs, but it's better than zero.

  4. People who whine about rink schedules annoy me. The rink will do what they need to do to get the most amount of money they can. They are a business. I have seen far too many rinks close, and I would rather have somewhere to skate than a perfect schedule. For me this means staying up past midnight or getting up at 4am to get in practice sessions. It also means driving hundreds of miles in a week to hit different rinks to get more than just a few hours of practice. If you want to skate, you will put out the effort and somehow make it work.

    Also, must comment that I am shocked at how many of you are talking about dead time on Sunday mornings - that is our busiest practice time! We go from 5:30am - 1pm (unless there is a private party booked at 11am) and there are usually around 50 skaters that show up (not all at once, but the 9am-10am time is crazy). I am surprised that this isn't a common practice.

    1. "If you want to skate, you will put out the effort and somehow make it work."

      Sing it, sister!

      I skate at 3 rinks. I spend 6 hours a week just driving to them for 5 hours practice.

    2. Unless the closest rink to you, aside from your home rink, is an hour and a half away and doesn't offer convienient practice time. I don't have the time to travel to another rink because the gas money would eat up my bank account alone so I work with what I have while working a full time job and another part time job.

      I make it work the best way I can with the limited time I have.

  5. What about rinks that close for summer? Is there anyway to tweak or add something that would make it profitable enough to keep ice up? It always seems like a no-brainer to me; I'd much rather spend the warmer part of the day in an ice rink than at a hot pool. Or is it just too expensive to keep ice up in hot weather without hockey?

    I was always wondering whether something like a Summer Pass even for public skate would make sense?

  6. I know in the Chicago area about half the rinks close because there are just too many rinks to make it profitable. Since three of the rinks in our little "circuit" started closing in the summer we're seeing much healthier numbers on summer ice at the ones left (although it means no nearly-empty sessions, which I love). But yes, the "hey it's steaming hot let's go to the beach" and "hey it's freezing cold let's go to the ice rink" does mystify me.

  7. I think our rink maximizes the schedule to get the most profit. We don't complain, better a busy rink than a closed rink.~meg

  8. Out here in L.A. we've got a really odd mix of rinks and ice times. The couple locales fortunate enough to be dual-surface Olympic size nearly always have one surface every weekday for freestyle available, and half-a-day weekends.

    We also have a couple really small "ponds" (like 60 by 100) that have freestyle available around half the time (but are not very useful for practicing a program naturally).

    The scheduling mostly seems to be an issue at the single-surface Olympic rinks. Moral of the story: all rinks should have at least two surfaces LOL.

  9. I know the arenas around here close in the summer before the generator is too old and would not be able to function for more than 6 months a year.

  10. Our rink has public ice at mid-day Monday-Friday year-round, which is fantastic for adult skaters. But apart from that, it's all allocated to hockey, freestyle, synchro, or classes. This means that, except for school holidays, there is NOT ONE MINUTE of ice available during the week or on the weekends on which lower-level kids in classes can practice. This seems counter-intuitive to me. I would take my Basic 4 daughter to practice once a week, so she was on the ice twice/wk rather than once, but the after-school and weekend hours are all completely blocked. There is a second rink in town that has two hours on Sunday afternoons for public ice in winter, so we go there sometimes. But why on earth would a rink that runs 6 sessions (each session with about 5 classes running) of LTS classes/wk not have any practice ice for school-age kids who aren't advanced enough for freestyle ice? It boggles the mind.

    1. It's a vicious circle-- beginners don't take lessons, so they don't designate ice, so they don't take lessons because there's no ice.

  11. I feel very spoiled sometimes in this regard-I skated today on a public session with 7 other people. And that's not that uncommon but at the same time I find myself thinking "Can they afford this?" My biggest complaint with scheduling is that our rink changes the times from month to month and then below the regularly scheduled times there is a list of Added Session and Cancelled Sessions. I think this month there are around 20 added and 20 cancelled which makes it difficult to get into a routine of practicing.

  12. The very best thing about scheduling at my rink is when they schedule a freestyle session but decide not to tell anyone about it. My rink is too good for useless things like online schedules, planning ahead, or revenue.

  13. Be glad you are not in Scotland! A lot of the rinks exist for Curling so they mainly focus on that. They may have a few public sessions and maybe a small skating club running once or twice a week too. These rinks are usually ~1/2 - 2/3 Hockey sized and are only open Sept - April when the Curling season runs.

    Those who skate at rinks large enough for hockey usually have a fight with Hockey AND Curling for figure skating ice time! Mind you Scotland isn't exactly renound for its hockey ability (lol!) so there aren't that many teams! Curling generates more income for the rinks during the season than hockey I think.

    I'm lucky that my city has a separate Curling only rink next door to our olympic sized skating rink (an entirely separate company). Absolutely no skating happens on the curling rink and curling has only happened on the skating rink once in the last 30 years when there was a major tournament on.

    It means we have more figure skating ice time available here (mostly mornings) than other rinks so a) get skaters travelling here from all across central Scotland and b) get some outside coaches bringing their higher level skaters here to practice for major competitions.

    1. Can curling rinks even *be* dual-use? I know that speed skating rinks have the same issue-- the ice needs are very specific, and it's very challenging resurfacing from a public or class session to accommodate the level of smoothness needed for speed.

    2. I think they "can" be, though I assume it's not optimal. There's a curling club in Portland that practices at Lloyd Center (mall rink) and here in the Phx. area there's a curling club that practices at the Ice Den in Scottsdale.

    3. Yes they can be... eg

      It is not ideal but if it is the choice between that or not having a rink at all... There are a few curling only rinks too.

  14. Our home rink also has an outdoor speedskating oval which has a bandy rink in the center. When the oval closes for the season, the bandy teams move indoors to the single sheet of ice at the arena. Bandy bought all the summer morning sessions this year, which meant the figure skating club could only have contract sessions 3 late afternoons/evenings a week because their synchro teams get an evening and the club's bridge program gets an evening. Hockey gets all the weekend ice in the summer.

    Surprise, surprise...many club members bought ice at other rinks this summer and the afternoon/evening sessions are poorly attended. I think the club is losing a ton of money during this summer contract session. Thank goodness we live in an area where you don't need to drive more than 15 min to get to another rink--they're everywhere!

    Ironically, because there are so many rinks in our area, coaches can be very selective about the sessions and rinks they will teach on. We know of only one local club that offers Sunday contract ice and there is no dead ice on Sundays in this area (I think hockey buys it all). With the exception of our current coach, no coach we've hired has been willing to coach on Sunday or early morning ice because there are so many other options available...even though those options are not always convenient for their students.

    I don't understand why coaches and clubs don't realize that afterschool sessions for middle and high school students are not convenient--the ice at our home rink ends by 5:30 p.m.(and during the school year there is only 1 session on Saturday evenings because of skating school). If a skater needs to talk to a teacher or you're involved in an activity like clubs, drama, band or sports, you can't make afterschool sessions. Not to mention social event conflicts like basketball and football games.

    If you're a highly competitive skater, I can understand foregoing these activities for skating, but you're probably home schooled anyway and can skate on daytime sessions. But, most skaters are never going to even make it to Regionals. A student who loves to skate should be able to continue to test and compete as a recreational skater and still maintain some balance in their life, especially because there are so many options in our area.

  15. I'm lucky to live where I live. Major Canadian city. Public rinks. Lots of them. We all skate before we walk :P One large skating club that skates out of quite a few rinks and a few smaller satellite clubs. We have quite a lot of skaters in the area, so ice at the clubs is usually pretty darn full.

    One time, a hockey player went off at me about what a waste of time figure skating ice was... but to be honest, I was completely shocked when it happened because it was the first I'd heard about it. I got the whole "I've been playing for 15 years and I have to share my ice with blah blah blah..." lecture and just sort of shrugged it off. It's certainly not the dominant feeling here.

    It's not hard to make money off of figure skating. But it might take a bit of an investment first. Same as anything. I can see the clubs I go to spend a lot of time and thought on each level in order to gain new clients and then keep them. I'm sure, at first, the money they were all putting in might have seemed futile, but all of the clubs are healthy and thriving right now.

    1. I'm right there with you. I literally hear from hockey players once a week that the rink would shut down if it weren't for hockey. But then they get morning ice on Friday and I've been there a few times and seen no one show up. Figure skating ice in the summer had at least 15 girls per session, so who was actually bringing in money at that point? Now that school started up it's harder for the kids to get there for an 8am session, but I know a fair amount show up for the 7am.

      But yeah, hockey players have a bit of a pedestal they are on constantly.*

      *That's not to say that they ALL do, just some who have egos that could hold their own orbit.