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Arts and Enrichment

Ice Skating & Snow Sports

Teaching the Magic of Winter Sports

December 01, 2009
The 2010 Winter Olympics is right around the corner — tell me you're excited to see figure skating! I can't wait! Bobsleigh, snowboarding, skiing and the rest certainly have merit, but ice-skating has a magical quality unlike any other sport.

Blame the beauty of gliding across ice, the unbelievably fast spins or even the costumes, but millions of families tuning into the Olympics this winter will be taken by the sport and kids across the globe will wonder what it must be like to skate on ice. If your child is among those whose interest piqued, support his or her curiosity and hit the nearest rink.

Susi Wehrli, senior director of membership at U.S. Figure Skating, recommends that even before engaging in lessons, you should take your child to a public skate with the sole purpose of having a fun, safe and relaxing experience that everyone will want to do again. "If parents want to start a kid skating, the best thing to do is take them public skating a couple of times so they are comfortable wearing skates and walking around the lobby, getting used to the balance differences and playing on the ice."

She also mentions that if you aren't a skater yourself, it's a good idea to ask for help from an accomplished skater so your kid's first steps are easy and fun.

If your child wants to more formally learn how to skate, Wehrli recommends kids start skating at about age four, though acknowledges many programs start younger.

Elite Skating is a local organization that offers private and group skating lessons for recreational and competitive ice-skating. The company's owner, Devan Heiber, says that skating is for all ages and abilities and notes that, "It's an all-around good sport for hand-eye coordination. It was based off of ballet, so it's ballet on ice. You will get some gracefulness on ice similar to what you get from dancing."

Heiber adds that ice-skating is a sport for anybody. "We can accommodate so many different skill levels that it can be fun for all ages. It really is a fun family activity, which is kind of hard to find in some sports."

If you're considering introducing your child to ice skating, here are a few things to keep in mind before lacing up your child's skates.

Age: While Wehrli recommends introducing kids no younger than four to ice skating, others say three or younger can give it a go. The main thing is to make sure that your child is comfortable leaving you for the lesson and able to take direction from the teacher. Your child's motor skills should also be developed enough so he or she can start learning how to balance and glide. Of course kids don't have to be toddlers to learn to love the ice. Children, teens and adults of any age can learn to skate—it's never too late.

Cost: Like most any sport, ice-skating is not free. It's not necessarily expensive to get started either. According to Heiber, the cost can range anywhere from $11 to $15 for a beginning group lesson with her organization to $300 per month on up for competitive skaters.

Equipment: You need skates and a helmet. Skates must fit properly and it's a good idea for your child to practice walking in the skates before taking the ice. The skates should have a snug fit without pinching the toes. Lightweight socks or tights are recommended. Skates can be rented or purchased as previously worn; however, if your skater takes to the sport it is a good idea to buy a pair from a pro shop that will fit just his or her foot.

U.S. Figure Skating strongly recommends the use of helmets for beginners of all ages too. A hockey, skateboard or ski helmet will work well for beginners as these helmets can withstand more than one moderate impact. As with any safety equipment, protection is provided for only a limited number of impacts so replace the helmet if it shows signs of being damaged.

Attire: Indoors or outdoors, ice-skating is a chilly sport, so dress in layers to keep warm. According to Wehrli, most indoor arenas are between 50 and 60 degrees. It's also important to dress in comfortable attire that allows you to move freely. Don't forget to wear gloves or mittens to help ease the falls that are almost certain to happen.

LIke so much in life, ice-skating can be more than what first meets the eye, or ice in this case. "Personally I think skating is fantastic at building life lessons and character," says Wehrli. "It's all about learning a new skill, accomplishing goals like short and long term goals. The best thing, and I teach a lot of parent education, is accomplishment, learning how to fall down and get up, which is a huge life lesson for our kids. In order to be a successful skater you have to be able to fall, learn how to do it and have the patience to try again."

Carrie Bishop is a freelance writer and mother of two young sons, whose daily antics inspire her work and her life.

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