Since 1931, Seattle Skating Club has been developing ice skaters of all skill levels — from preschoolers learning the basics to national champions, Team USA athletes and Olympians like Edmonds’ Rosalynn Sumners.
No matter where the ice takes them, every skater starts in the same spot: on their butt.
“Anyone can get on the ice,” says Steve Baker, Learn to Skate USA director and a 25-year coach at Seattle Skating Club. “You’ve got to learn to be one with the ice, so one of the first things we do with adults and children is we teach them how to fall over, how to sit down, how to stand up. Because we all fall down; that’s part of learning.”
First-time skaters around Greater Seattle have been learning that hard, cold lesson in droves lately, as Learn to Skate classes, which teach the basics of skating to newbies of all ages, have been particularly busy in anticipation of the arrival of the Seattle Kraken.
Learn to Skate is a national program with the goal of teaching basic skills on the ice — gliding, balancing and maneuvering on the edges of quarter-inch blades, crossovers — that translate off the ice to strength, confidence and (hopefully) a lifelong love of skating.
Seattle-area classes, offered at nearly a dozen local-ish rinks spread as far as Everett, Snoqualmie, Tacoma and Bremerton (including six in Seattle and its immediate suburbs), look the same for the most part. Separated by age, skaters are further grouped by skill level and typically meet weekly for sessions that span about four to eight weeks. Classes range from as few as a couple of skaters to a couple of dozen.
At first, it’s slow going: stiff, straight-legged, wide-eyed skaters with arms outstretched for balance shuffle across the ice while teachers adjust their technique like Thumper coaching Bambi. But give it a couple of months — more or less, depending on a person’s age and skill level — and those skaters will be making their way around the rink on their own.
Rebecca Frampton, Learn to Skate coordinator at Highland Ice Arena in Shoreline, says that after students’ first lesson in falling and getting back up, they learn to march on their skates, mastering their balance on those thin, silver blades. Next comes marching forward on the ice, then, before you know it, skaters are gliding, picking up speed each session. Soon enough they’re doing “swizzles” — using those sharp skate edges to make bubbles on the ice — and moving to more advanced skills like backward skating, “snowplow” or “pizza” stops, crossovers, one-foot glides and beyond.
No matter the age of the skater, Frampton says, that first successful glide carries an inimitable, one-time joy — and “if you could bottle that excitement, you’d be rich.”
“I don’t think there’s anything that beats out the feeling of gliding across the ice,” she says, “probably the closest feeling to flying that a human can get.”
At Sno-King Kirkland on a recent Friday night, there were several dozen Learn to Skate participants pursuing that feeling of flying. First was the group session, followed by a half-hour practice during which skaters spun and socialized, got extra instruction from coaches in red jackets, taught moves to skaters at lower levels or just hung out to chat.
In that Friday-night practice session earlier this month, skaters of all ages laughed with friends along the boards or practiced moves on their own time. There was 32-year-old Lauren Careccia — her hair blue, teal and gold, inspired by a kingfisher bird — who recently moved to Lynnwood but has continued classes at Sno-King because the staff and other students there have been so welcoming and supportive. She’s a Level 2 skater currently working on her crossovers.
At a distinct advantage to the adults — who are bigger, less coordinated and more cognizant of the pain of falling — are the kids zooming around the ice, many with parents watching like hawks from the bleachers.
MeiYi Bing, 7, spotted her mom, Yan, watching her skate from the penalty box; smiling through her mask, MeiYi glided from center ice to the boards on one foot, her back leg extended straight behind her, arms out like airplane wings. She approached too quickly to stop properly, got bounced to the ice by the boards, then popped right back up. She adjusted her pigtails, laughed and kept skating.
The young skater started Learn to Skate in July, complementing that regimen with 30-minute private lessons. She likes the skating itself, of course, but also the outfits she sees in figure skating videos her mom plays on YouTube. Asked if she has a favorite skater, MeiYi said, “I only know my favorite teacher”: Justin, her private instructor.
For now, MeiYi is the only one from her family on the ice. But they all started together: Asked if she had been skating before, Yan started to say she wants to, but has not before, when MeiYi interrupted.
“Mama, you did the one time!”
“Oh yeah, one time.”
“On Christmas, but a long, long time ago.”
A long, long time ago was two years ago, when the Bing family went skating at T-Mobile Park during Enchant Christmas. MeiYi was a natural skater.
“My mom was so scared!” she said, kicking her head back and laughing as she recalled that first time on the ice. “My mom was like, ‘Help!’ ”
That parent-child connection — in addition to the desire to exercise and to replicate something seen on TV, like professional hockey or figure skating — is a big draw at Learn to Skate classes, where relationships develop inside the family and beyond, with coaches and other novice skaters.
At one end of the ice at Kraken Community Iceplex in Seattle during a recent Monday evening Learn to State class were the youngest little skaters, latched onto traffic cones for balance, with helmets decked-out with cat ears, ladybug stickers and graphics of “Frozen” characters. At the other end, in the adult session, skateboarding and hockey helmets were the more ubiquitous headgear.
Level 1 skaters Jenny and James McDonald, 40 and 43, respectively, put on skates for the first time four weeks ago, inspired by the arrival of the Kraken — they have season tickets — and the urge to do something active together as a couple. Both said they’ve been blown away by a newfound respect for the coordination, balance and skill of professional ice sports athletes.
“It’s definitely not as easy as it looks,” Jenny said. “I have a lot more respect for any sort of ice sports. Even curling [an ice sport that doesn’t include skating] looks ridiculously hard.”
The McDonalds say they have literally and figuratively leaned on each other over the last month of lessons and are hoping to keep improving together on the ice. There have been plenty of pitfalls (and ice falls) as they learn to balance on “knife shoes,” the couple growing in confidence as they work on skills like forward and backward swizzles.
The McDonalds hope to graduate from Learn to Skate and then start learning to play hockey, with the goal of one day joining a local rec team. In the meantime, every week on the ice feels like its own victory.
“I think every class it’s a new success,” James said. “You learn a little bit more, you get a little bit more comfortable. A skill you didn’t know last week it’s like, ‘Oh I can finally start doing it this week, that’s quite amazing.’”
Learn to Skate participants start as young as 4 and as old as 75, local coaches say. So if you’re looking to replicate that “amazing,” “magical,” “awesome” feeling of gliding on the ice, that feeling like you’re flying — well, it’s never too late to start.
Getting on the ice
There are several Learn to Skate classes available across the Greater Seattle area; most require helmets, gloves and thin socks, and run four to eight weeks. Seen at local classes: bike helmets, skateboarding helmets, hockey gloves, mittens, etc. The dress code is flexible; come warm, protected and comfortable.
In Seattle proper, your best bet for skating lessons is Kraken Community Iceplex. Like most rinks across the Greater Seattle area, KCI offers ice skating classes for both kids and adults. To find the closest program to you — from Sno-King in Kirkland and Renton, to Highland in Shoreline, to Lynnwood Ice Center — visit st.news/KCI or learntoskateusa.com/findaskatingprogram.