A Throwback Skating Tale – Uphill … Both Ways

What’s better than watching old ice carnivals and competition footage on a snowy winter’s day?

A few years ago, I transferred a stack of VHS tapes to DVD. Snugging with a blanket, I pressed play and 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 the exterior moulded plastic skates? I’d rather not either. They weren’t popular with older CanSkaters – and shunned by CanFigure skaters. However, worn by many youngsters. Please, don’t make your child wear these bricks on blades. My second pair were moulded skates, and my ankles felt as though they’d been wrapped in duct tape.

While kids teetered around without helmets in moulded skates, the sound of frozen applause filled the air: literally. Until the mid-80s, our club had real ice. For lessons, 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, wearing moulded skates.

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 by 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 we missed were squished by kids from the crowd who’d run onto the ice.

Oh yeah, we didn’t have a plexiglass shield either.

Those were Kodak moments. Probably ingrained in the memories of skaters from that time – and 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. Today, parents and the crowd can only take photos of their child/relative (#AdultsSkateToo). Some competitions have an onsite photographer, and you can purchase professional pictures. Better quality than film.

Speaking of film.

When my dad bought a video camera, I’m not sure he realized he entered “the tape zone.” For hours, he’d watch – through a black and white viewfinder – ice shows, competitions, podium finishes, and so forth. Even one ice show rehearsal. Today, that’s not allowed. Some clubs appoint a professional to shot a carnival or competition, and copies are either given away or purchased. 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 moulded 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]