ice skating lessons needed
January 6, 2011 10:27 AM   Subscribe

How can I learn to ice skate?

I'm a 31-yr-old male who's only skating experience was elementary school roller skating parties (not the in-line kind), probably 20 yrs ago. My wife is in the same boat. We're looking for fun winter activities that help us to stay active. We have 2 kids under 3, so we figured ice skating could be something the whole family could do (obviously, a few yrs down the road for the kids, but we'd like to learn now so we'd be somewhat skilled by the time we'd be training them).

We're in the Cincinnati, OH area if you had tips on specific locations.

Although I can't think of anyone I know that ice skates, I'm sure someone does. Would it be better to try to track down a friend and have he/she help? Or should I try a "professional"?

I can Google "ice skating lessons cincinnati" and plenty of results pop looks like various rinks advertise free lessons to all ages. Would we have any success learning from any of them? (My gut tells me no because I don't think we are the type of people that would pick this up in a 30-minute group sesssion.)

We wouldn't be opposed to pay a modest sum for some 1-on-2 instuction...does that exist?

Any other random advice welcome.
posted by glenngulia to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I'm no expert, but based on what you say you are looking to accomplish, you can just go ... skate! It's kind of fun to get out there together (leave the kids at home!) and figure it out -- maybe make it a scheduled date night activity. Nothing-fancy skating doesn't really require lessons. Invest in well-fitting skates, dress warmly-but-not-too, and a down coat helps pad the falls. Have a blast!
posted by thinkpiece at 10:39 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ohio's pretty far south, so if it doesn't snow a lot, inline skating might be a way to ease into the ice-skating. You'll lost some of the nuances but not the ones that matter to a total novice, and it's much more convenient.

The two (or three) chief differences will be:

1. ice skates have "inside" and "outside" edges, but this distinction is usually relaxed in inline-skating except in double-push, which is a specialized technique for speed-skating.

2. inline skates "drag" by turning one foot out and dragging it behind, whereas on ice skates you'd have to push a foot forward. The more aggressive stopping techniques (e.g., turning both feet to one side or turning both feet outward) are the similar.

3. ice skates for figure skating have a "toe pick" or "toe rake" which is important for jumps. Ice skates for hockey and inline skates don't have anything like that, because it's only necessary for jumping.

On the other hand, you don't need to "sharpen" inline skates like you do ice skates, and you can tolerate a lower quality surface. Bumps and scratches on the road that would be big enough to destroy all semblance of traction on ice, just make your shoes vibrate.

If you do decide to go ice skating, dress in layers. You'll warm up quickly and then appreciate the ability to take off some but not all of your clothing. A long-sleeve shirt over a T-shirt, and one layer of pants (no long underwear) is usually enough for me, once I get moving.
posted by d. z. wang at 10:43 AM on January 6, 2011

OK, it's been a couple years since I went ice skating, and I was never what you'd call good at it, but I think you should go for the 30 minute free lesson and see what that does for you. The person who gives the free 30 minute lesson may well give paid lessons and will almost certainly be able to connect you with someone who does. Pick a rink that's convenient and go on in.

I think what you're really going to have to do is get out there and practice, and the 30 minute lesson may be enough to get you comfortable enough to go on your own (even if you're clinging to the side of the rink for the first couple of sessions!).
posted by mskyle at 10:43 AM on January 6, 2011

...and when I say "the similar" I mean just "similar". I previewed, I swear I did.
posted by d. z. wang at 10:44 AM on January 6, 2011

When I was in my mid-20s I took some "Learn To Skate" lessons from my local rink (I was starting to play hockey and wanted to learn how to skate backwards). They had adult and kid divisions, and each group was relatively small. There were 3 or 4 other adults in my class, which met on Saturdays in the afternoon.

It was a nice program that broke the stride down into basics, starting very simple and progressing as we learned. I think "Learn To Skate" is a national, standardized program with levels that, if I remember right, are 1 to 5 -- I was able to work my way up through a couple of the different levels over the duration of the class. I would expect that most rinks offer these kinds of lessons. It was inexpensive and very worthwhile.
posted by statolith at 10:44 AM on January 6, 2011

Oh, also, learn on hockey skates, not figure skates! Both of you! I wish I had. I've never done a jump in my life.
posted by mskyle at 10:44 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yup, just find a public rink, figure out the public hours and go!

I learned by doing just that, though I was helped along by the fact that my roommate at the time had been a figure skater. She'd go, I'd tag along and flail about while she was being graceful... I still flail about but I don't fall as much.

To paraphrase someone: "There is no 'try', there only 'do'." Go do it!
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 10:45 AM on January 6, 2011

I LOVE ice skating. Wish I had taken it up when I was a child, not a teen, so I could've skated competitively.

I'm sure 1-on-2 instruction is possible= private lesson. If the group classes are free, why not take advantage and go to at least one? You'll learn some things in the classes and can practice them alone in your spare time.

The best way to learn is to just go out on the ice and get comfortable! Don't be afraid to fall and have fun!
posted by lovelygirl at 10:46 AM on January 6, 2011

A week ago I had never skated.
A friend came by with a few used pairs and suggested we go shovel the lake in front of my house. I, warm with scotch, decided I'd go give it a shot. Much shoveling later, I was skating.

The results were glorious. I fell down once or twice, but after a couple hours I found myself able to skate fairly confidentally in circles, stop, start, turn and all of the rest, without excessive wobbling or embarassment.

As a modestly athletic, sporty adult of roughly your same age I had no trouble at all picking up the basics of skating. I'd imagine it'd be even easier on professionally groomed ice, without dogs running around under your feet and scotch in your belly. (Though this certainly added to the general spirit of things.)

I'm not saying "don't hire an instructor" but the biggest thing isn't where you do it, or who teaches you, it's just a willingness to go give it your best shot. You won't be olympic on your first day, but just have fun and don't be afraid of it. I'll back off so that people with more specific advice about instructors and venues can chime in.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:47 AM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

My mom is a phenomenal skater who's taught lots of people. (Not in Cincinnati unfortunately.)

What kind of instruction you want depends in part on your learning style. Some people need to be taught first, then practice. Others need to try on their own, then have instruction and questions. Either way is fine - just go with whatever will work best for you. I'd try the 30 minute free session. Generally, at the end of those sessions the rink offers more advanced lessons for a fee.

Once you got decent skates that are correctly fitted and laced, it's really about practicing. Most people skate once or twice a year. That doesn't allow you to improve. While your learning, plan to skate twice a week for about 30-45 minutes. You want to be there long enough to get moving, but not so long that all your muscles fatigue. You can't practice technique when your muscles are exhausted. Two short sessions a week will be more productive than one long one. You're giving your body repeated opportunity and instruction to learn the skill. Gritting it out in exhausted misery is counterproductive.

Go when the rink is lightly populated - not Saturday free skate and not immediately before or after hockey practice. When the rink is almost empty the skate guard will often give you some tips if you're open to it.

After about a month, you'll know how to skate. An once you've imprinted that skill, it's like riding a bike. You won't forget how to do it. Next year, you'll need one short tune up session and you'll be skating easily.
posted by 26.2 at 10:53 AM on January 6, 2011

Don't "just go" if you've never been ice skating before. I've done this before and if you're anything like me, you don't just pick it up. I would try the 30 minute group session, see what it does for you, and if you still need help, look at getting a private lesson.
posted by kro at 10:54 AM on January 6, 2011

I think the 30-minute group session would not be a bad start. At the very least you'll learn how to get up if you fall (this is not obvious to a lot of people), get the gist of basic movement and feel less self-conscious than if you went to the rink by yourself for the first time.

Ask the staff (especially the instructors) about private lessons. They probably know people who are happy to do that kind of work.

While you're at the rink, take some time to watch how people skate. What makes newbies look like newbies and experts look like experts? Imitate, tweak your body position.

Wear gloves/mittens. Don't be too afraid to fall.
posted by bread-eater at 10:55 AM on January 6, 2011

All of the Chiller rinks up in Columbus offer learn to skate public clinics. I'd be shocked if rinks in Cinci didn't.

If you feel like the public clinic would be too difficult for the kids to follow, I would look at a private lesson.

If you're considering trying hockey after you get comfortable with skating, I would find a copy of "Hockey for Weekend Warriors" by Scott Noble (amazon) and read through it. Some very good advice about equipment and playing the game, along with a fair bit of tongue in cheek humor.
posted by BZArcher at 11:10 AM on January 6, 2011

I've played hockey my whole life and taught many friends\hockey players how to skate. There is a big difference between knowing how to skate compared to just going to a public session and saying "I didn't fall today!" I think it's best to start with someone who knows how so you don't start practicing bad habits.
Also, most learn to skate programs almost pay for themselves by giving a lot of free public skate session passes which is another good reason to try.

I'd recommend doing the below.

1. Go to the rink closest to you.
2. Start their learn to skate program.
3. If it's something you think you like buy yourself some skates right away. Rental skates are terrible and will hold you back. (Hockeygiant is one of my favorite places and they have decent skates for around $75 all the time.) Don't forget to get them sharpened once they arrive.
4. Skate on your own for a few months by going to public sessions.
5. Sign up for power skating lessons.
posted by zephyr_words at 11:14 AM on January 6, 2011

You'll probably be fine if you just go. Make sure to go to a rink (as opposed to a pond or something) because it will have a wall around the edge that you can hold on to as you figure it out. If you go to your local rink on an open skate day and it's anything like my local rink, 25% of the people there will be inching along, clinging to the side of the rink, trying to learn, and the rest will be falling occasionally-- not professionals by any means.

You can go to a skate rink on an open skate day, rent a pair of skates and try it out for a few hours-- if you realize that you're really not going to pick it up without some private instruction, you can always do that after. Having someone who already knows how to skate come with you would probably make it a lot more fun and keep you from clinging to the wall the whole time, though.

Hockey skates will probably be easier than figure skates because they have more ankle support and they don't have a rough edge on the front (which can cause an abrupt, accidental, face-first stop if you're not careful and are totally unnecessary if you're just skating in laps, which I'm assuming is what you're wanting to do.) Skates will probably make your feet sore and give you blisters if they don't fit right or aren't laced up tightly enough-- wearing two pairs of thin socks always helped me.

For your kids when they're old enough: my first pair of skates when I was a little kid had a double blade on them-- like these which are good for kids because they're easier and you can't go as fast-- sort of like training wheels.
posted by geegollygosh at 11:25 AM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding: learn on hockey skates rather than figure skates.

I would say, go to a rink and just try it once or twice to see how you like it, how hard it is for you, etc. Tips: go at a quiet time. Tie your skates tight because ankle-wobble is painful and you want to avoid that. Skate slow at first, give yourself time, you can always hold on the side rail if you need to. Go around the rink a couple of times. It's a balance thing, so you'll need to just try it to get the basic hang of it - watching will only take you so far before you need to just try. Go with the flow of traffic. If you fall, try not to splay out your limbs into the flow of traffic too much. (this is why it's nicer to go at a slow time) Falling on ice hurts, so try to get the basic balance right before you try to go fast; if you have bony butts, you may want to wear an extra layer of long underwear or the like for a little padding.

Then do some group lessons to start picking up proper habits, learn to go backwards, build control, etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:34 AM on January 6, 2011

Go for the free lessons. I don't see why you and your wife would have any trouble keeping up. The fact that the lessons are free indicates that they are geared towards total beginners, the sort of folks whose only skill so far is the ability to cling to the boards and pull themselves along.

I've been skating my whole life and have gone skating with friends of all skill levels. I've noted that it's intuitive for some people, but not for everyone. I've watched people try to skate by moving their legs straight backward and forward, while standing straight up. A skating instructor will show you the proper posture and stride technique. Equally important is how to stop once you get going. I've seen more than a few collisions as a result of overly enthusiastic beginners. Then it's just a matter of practice and developing good balance (skate blades have a slight curve, or "radius" to them - they're not flat! Balance is vital!).

Random advice: I'm assuming you'll be renting skates at first. Keep in mind that rental skates are invariably horrible. The boots are soft and worn out, the padding is all packed down by hundreds of different shaped feet, the blades are mangled, and worst of all, they're likely to be the wrong size.

Skates should not fit like street shoes. Not everybody knows this, not even the employees in the hockey department of a sports shop, who tried to sell me skates that were two sizes too big. Skates that are too big are bad. You'll be wobblier and have less control, and your feet will slip around, forcing you to exert unnecessary energy and causing blisters.

Even if you're just renting, don't be afraid to try on a few pairs until you find one that fits snugly. When you're standing straight up, your toes should kiss the front of the boots. This is because when you're skating, you'll be in a slightly crouched position with bent knees and your feet will naturally pull back in the boot.

I also second what another person suggested - unless you intend to learn how to jump, stick to hockey skates. Yes, your wife can wear them too, just size down 1-2 sizes accordingly (it seems a lot of people assume figure skates are for women and hockey skates are for men... this is not so). Toe picks are especially hazardous for beginners because a) it's easy to trip on them and b) some beginners develop poor technique by relying on the toe picks instead of the edges of their blades to skate.
posted by keep it under cover at 11:43 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I took up skating last year (at 30) and had a reasonably good experience with the learn to skate program offered by the local skating rink. The group classes for adults, in my experience, are pretty hands-off and you learn at your own pace. If you push yourself and practice, you can improve quickly. The other people in my classes were learning on both figure skates and hockey skates.

I concur that if you decide you're serious about learning, you should buy a pair of skates as early as possible. You can buy cheap skates (rimshot) and get a world of improvement over the loose-fitting rental skates.
posted by wam at 12:00 PM on January 6, 2011

I've only gone skating as a kid, and from that experience I have a small bit of advice: beware icy "non-slip" mats. Don't get all cocky that you won't fall once you're off the rink, because I survived the ice, but fell on an iced-over rubber mat and broke my leg. But don't let this keep you from getting out and trying it, with or without a trainer. Have fun!
posted by filthy light thief at 12:31 PM on January 6, 2011

A common beginner mistake is pulling the laces too tight, especially around the ball and arch of the foot. Tighten the laces only until comfortable (meaning comfortable while standing), or the skate will compress your foot, cutting off circulation and causing serious pain. The only part of the laces you want really snug are the ones around your ankles. Remember this when you lace up your kids' skates, too. Good luck!
posted by swerve at 1:10 PM on January 6, 2011

I learned how to skate on figure skates with no help. As a result, I always used the toe picks to get going. This is bad.

A few years back, I went to a free skate as part of a fundraiser for the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress. They did a free skate before a hockey game, amateurs against the Bruins. They had skates you could just grab, so I did and discovered the joy of skating on SHARP hockey skates. Now with no toe pick to use as a crutch, I actually used the edges to move and by golly, it works.

I bought a pair of hockey skates from a sporting goods store and went out a few times at a seasonal "rink" in my town, but didn't really skate much - I was mostly trying to assist my two year old son.

We recently went to a real rink and I quickly discovered just how dull the skates were and how painful it is to try to move with DULL hockey skates. I had them sharpened and will be looking forward to the joy again.

If it helps, skating with my now 3-year-old son is like skating with a 50 pound sack of cats. I can burn all kinds of energy just trying to keep him upright. I also discovered that it's very constructive to let him fall and get up, but to his frustration point before helping again. In him, it created a good feedback loop of success/failure. He tried things until they worked and when they did, the win and the praise was hugely high.

A friend of mine from high school who was a professional figure skater made the claim that double blades are bad to use with little kids. I don't recall her reasoning, though.
posted by plinth at 1:40 PM on January 6, 2011

I'm in my mid-30s and took up figure skating on a lark almost exactly a year ago. I take one 30 minute group lesson (the adult track of the Learn to Skate program mentioned above) a week and skate on my own a few times a week to practice. I bought figure skates as soon as I knew I wanted to continue to learn. I am now learning jumps, spins, footwork and any variety of other fun things. It's one of the best parts of my life.

My advice: sign up for Learn to Skate at a local rink. It's usually an inexpensive program (seven weeks at my rink of LTS is $70, plus you get to skate for free during all public skate sessions), so if you don't like it you can stop without a big hit to your wallet. You'll learn the basics while meeting the coaches who teach these lessons as well as coach privately. One skating friend of mine and his wife are now taking lessons in pairs skating with a coach they found through our group lessons.

Rental skates will suck to varying degrees. The blades will be dull, the boots will be beat-up and won't offer enough support, and they'll hurt like hell. If you figure out you like skating, spend $200 - $300 on a good pair of Reidells or Jacksons as soon as possible. Resist the urge to buy them online, and instead get fitted by a skate technician. I bought my Jackson Freestyles from a local skate expert after she fitted me, and she also sharpens my blades. Ask around at your rink where others bought their boots and blades-- you'll soon learn who the local revered expert is. The skating world is weirdly old school when it comes to this.

Some of the adult skaters I know use elbow and knee pads, and bike helmets. Sure, they look ridiculous, but it's a long way to the ice when you're a tall grown-up! And ICE IS HARD! So you might think about that.

Finally, a word about the hard-core figure skating children: they are intimidating to a new adult skater. So are their parents. They will blast around the rink, acting like they own the place, and you will feel like an enormous fool. This happens to every adult skater, so be prepared. My tactic has been, when I see them doing something I want to learn how to do, is to march up and ask them how they do it. It catches them off-guard and most of them like helping an inept grown-up. I've made a lot of young friends this way, and learned a lot of cool new stuff!

Skating is wonderful. I hope you try it and find this to be true, too. Good luck!
posted by hollisimo at 2:32 PM on January 6, 2011

another bit of advice to keep your feet happy in rental skates: wear thin socks. thin thin thin. the urge is to wear the thickest socks you own, but they'll chafe the crap out of your feet. and skates do need to be pretty snug throughout the whole boot to support your foot. not snug enough to cut off circulation, but somewhere near that.
posted by hollisimo at 2:41 PM on January 6, 2011

I'll add once you are a bit comfortable on the ice, come downtown and skate on the Fountain Square rink. It is loads of fun to be down there at night with all the lights and winter decorations out. Lots of nice restaurants around if you wanted to make it a date night or if the kids are in tow, there is a Graeters next to the rink.
posted by mmascolino at 9:21 PM on January 6, 2011

Thanks, all!

Too many good answers to for me to "mark as best answer". Most responses were great!
posted by glenngulia at 7:25 AM on January 7, 2011

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