A Throwback Skating Tale – Uphill … Both Ways

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

A few years ago, I transferred a stack of VHS tapes to DVD. Preparing for a journey down the Arborg Skating Club’s past, I snuggled with a blanket, I pressed play and certain details popped out.

Or, should I say changes?

Helmets weren’t mandatory in CanSkate in the mid-80s. It was optional. I watched as beginners wobbled and teetered, trying to maintain their balance and pace with their coaches. Two years later, helmets became mandatory for beginners at my club. Just beginners though, not CanSkate as a whole.

Remember the moulded plastic skates? I’d rather not either. They weren’t popular with older CanSkaters – and shunned by CanFigure skaters. But worn by many youngsters. Please, don’t make your child wear these bricks on blades. My second pair of skates were moulded, 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. For real. Until the 1986/1987 season, 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 shows, 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 with long hair, wearing moulded skates.

However, artificial ice nixed future balloon drops. Previously, during our grand finale, skaters waited in anticipation for the hundreds of balloons – held up by a net in the rafters – to plummet to the ice. Skaters would pop the balloons with their toe picks and hockey blades as the P.A. announcer would say, “Give them to the audience, skaters! Skaters, please give the balloons to the audience.” The balloons were sponsored by a local business, and the older skaters complied while younger skaters continued the stomping.

Once the finale music stopped, since there wasn’t a plexiglass shield, kids from the audience would leap over the boards and squish along with us.

Those were Kodak moments/ 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. 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. Today, parents and the crowd can only take photos of their skater. 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 video zone.” For hours, he’d watch – through a black and white viewfinder – ice shows, competitions, podium finishes, rehearsals, and so forth. Today, that’s not allowed. Some clubs appoint a professional to shoot an ice show or competition. Or a coach and parent can video their own skater, but the coach must video from the boards, and the parent from their seat or somewhere to not distract their skater.

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 video.

Those were the days.

(Originally published on the Edmonton Journal website on November 12, 2012)