This winter, welcome the quintessential tradition of ice skating as soon as the ice gets hard or a rink is opened.
Imagine it: You arrive at the ice rink all bundled up. You lace on a pair of skates — figure, recreational, or hockey — and once arriving at the ice, you glide easily across it.
Advanced skaters may do jumps and spins while newer skaters will slowly shuffle across the ice. Little ones will hold the hands of the adults who brought them. Couples cuddle side-by-side as they support each other around the rink.
The vision — a Norman Rockwell painting of brightly colored scarves, knit hats, and smiles that stretch from ear to ear.
But there are a few things smart skaters — and hopeful skaters — should know before hitting the ice.
Get the right gear
While consumers can purchase ice skates from most department stores, purchasing skates from a specialty shop can save time and money in the long run.
According to Rick Gunn, owner of Gunn’s Sports Shop at 32 Greenpoint Road in Brewer, novices should get started with a basic pair of skates. His family-owned business has been serving skaters for almost 37 years.
According to Gunn, hockey-style skates or recreational skates share a similar look and their rounded blade with no toe pick are best for the newbie skater.
“Most beginner figure skaters use the toe pick inappropriately and can develop bad technique,” Gunn said. “Proper technique is important so it doesn’t matter what you learn on.”
He added that there are three essential things to consider when choosing ice skates: proper support, the right fit to allow room for growth, and correctly sharpened blades. Specialty shops often include sharpening in the price of the skates.
“Skates don’t come already sharpened,” he said.
Purchasing skates from a specialty store doesn’t always mean the skater will pay more. In fact, utilizing experts can help save a skater money, and frustration, in the end.
Get the right fit
Choosing the right sized skate is a lot like choosing the right sized shoe. If the shoe fits properly, the foot feels great. If it’s ill fitting, all sorts of problems can arise resulting in extra dollars spent to get the right equipment.
“You’re trying to achieve the equivalent of bolting a blade to your shoe, so it’s important to get the boot to fit tightly,” he said. “As an adult, you want to get it as tight as you can with it still being comfortable. Comfort is king.”
The correct and comfortable fit begins with the socks. Forget about those super thick wool socks your grandmother knit for you when it comes to going ice skating. Thinner socks made from SmartWool or any fabric that wicks away moisture is optimal. Choose well-fitting socks that don’t bunch or sag and bring them to the fitting.
Hockey skates, he said, should usually be bought a size and a half below the skater’s shoe size.
For young skaters, Gunn recommended purchasing skates an extra size larger to allow for the foot to grow. Gunn’s offers used skates and a trade-in program for re-saleable skates, making skating more affordable for youngsters who want to give it a try.
“The skates don’t have to be from here originally,” he said.
The most important part to getting the fit right, Gunn said, is having the skater present for the fitting. Gunn said he and his staff ask lots of questions while working with the skater to find the perfect skate for them. That’s doubly important for children and youth skaters who are constantly growing, he said.
Upkeep is key
After finding “the one” at the skate store, storage and upkeep are key to keeping the skates looking (and feeling) like new. To keep equipment in tip-top shape, skaters should:
• Purchase blade guards. Blade guards protect the blades from dulling due to dirt, gravel, or pavement. They also protect hands, fabrics, and pets from being cut. Hard blade guards are ideal for walking short distances.
• Don’t store the skates in the blade guards. Moisture from the environment and ice that is trapped in guards can cause the blades to rust and is costly to fix. Put blade guards on while travelling and if walking over gravel, dirt, or pavement.
• Keep those blades sharp. For recreational skaters, once or twice a year should suffice. For more constant skaters or for skaters who are outside, Gunn recommends sharpening the skates every six to eight hours of ice time.
• Store skates in a dry, cool location. To prevent moisture from infiltrating the skates, Gunn recommended storing skates in a dry, cool location to allow skates to air dry.
For a list of ice arenas in Maine, many of which offer public ice time and rent equipment, visit arenamaps.com/arenas/Maine.htm. Many towns also have outdoor rinks, but if you’re planning to venture out on one of Maine’s many lakes or ponds to try out those blades, make sure the conditions are safe.
Maine Warden Service tips for ice safety
Never guess the thickness of the ice – Check it! Check the ice in several different places using an auger or some other means to make a test hole and determine the thickness. Make several, beginning at the shore, and continuing as you go out.
Check the ice with a partner, so if something does happen, someone is there to help you. If you are doing it alone, wear a lifejacket.
If ice at the shoreline is cracked or squishy, stay off! Watch out for thin, clear or honeycombed ice. Dark snow and dark ice are other signs of weak spots.
Avoid areas with currents, around bridges and pressure ridges. Wind and currents can break ice.
Parents should alert children of unsafe ice in their area, and make sure that they stay off the ice. If they insist on using their new skates, suggest an indoor skating rink.
If you break through the ice, remember:
Don’t try to climb out immediately – you will probably break the ice again. Reach for solid ice.
Lay both arms on the unbroken ice and kick hard. This will help lift your body onto the ice. Once on the ice, roll, don’t walk, to safety.
To help someone who has fallen through the ice, lie down flat and reach with a branch, plank or rope or form a human chain. Don’t stand. After securing the victim, wiggle backwards to the solid ice.