A Throwback Skating Tale – Uphill … Both Ways

I don’t know what it is about freshly fallen snow, but I dragged out my old ice carnival and competition footage – already transferred to DVD.

This time, though, certain details popped out. Or, should I say changes?

Helmet use was not mandatory in CanSkate in the mid-80s. It was optional. In one of the carnivals, beginners waddled onto the ice, trying to maintain their balance and pace with the coaches. As the skaters circled the ice, their bodies teetered and tottered.

Two years later, it became mandatory at my club for beginners to wear helmets. But not for CanSkate as a whole.

Remember molded plastic skates? I’d rather not either. Not wildly popular with older CanSkaters, but worn by many youngsters. Word of advice: don’t. My first skates were molded. My ankles couldn’t bend, and it felt as though it were wrapped in duct tape.

While kids teetered around without helmets in molded skates, the sound of frozen applause filled the air: literally. Until the mid-80s, our club had real ice. For practices, our parents would dress us in long-underwear, snowsuits, scarves, mitts, toques, and two pairs of socks. For ice carnivals, mom would ensure my older sister and I wore double tights. But nothing keeps you warm in a tiny dress.

The 1985 grand finale for “Children of the World.” I was an Irish girl, and I’m the one approaching the red line.

When we did get artificial ice, it signaled the end of the glorious balloon drop. At the end of the grand finale, hundreds of balloons held up in a net in the rafters would plummet to the ice. Of course, since skaters had toe picks we’d just pop the balloons. The balloons that survived were squished by kids from the crowd who’d run onto the ice. Oh yeah, we didn’t have a plexiglass shield. Fun, but what a mess.

Definitely a Kodak moment. Probably ingrained in the memories of skaters from that time – and probably the arena walls, considering the burn from flash cameras.

From the Arborg Skating Club’s 1985 Children of the World carnival. The Beginners, no helmets. But so cute.

Every carnival, skaters were blinded by a cavalcade of shutterbugs in the audience. A family didn’t appoint one person to take photos and make copies. No. Too risky. Everyone snapped photos. Sometimes two or three of the same skating position. On the off chance the photo didn’t turn out. After all, it was the era of the 35mm camera. Film.

And speaking of film:

When my sister and I competed or skated in ice shows after 1986, my Dad was on video camera duty. I also have footage of warm-ups, ice carnival practices, and a couple podium finishes. Today, that’s not allowed. A person is appointed to shoot a competition or a carnival and copies are bought later. Or coach and parent can video their own child, but the coach must video from the boards, and the parent from their seat or somewhere to not distract their child.

But, in the mid-80s, it was a free for all. Kids skated without helmets on molded skates. In cold arenas blinded by flashbulbs with balloons dumped on them while someone captured the entire thing on tape.

Those were the days.

[Originally published on the Edmonton Journal website]

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