Interview: Boots and Blades, Part 2

December 11, 2007

old-skate.jpg

 Well, skate technology has certainly come a long way since the days when people constructed blades out of the leg bones of horses, elk, or deer, then attached them to their boots with straps of leather. Back then, instead of going to over to the nearest skate shop, you had to go hunting. 

It’s hard to imagine that people actually used skating as means of transportation via frozen rivers and canals. Because the blades were so rudimentary, many of these intrepid travelers used big poles to help propel themselves forward. I guess this was in the time before subways and Vespas and Hummers. And global warming. 

I read this week that, in 1572, the Dutch military laced up their ice skates to fight a battle against the Spaniards near Amsterdam. Their triumph was apparently so thorough and impressive that the Spanish military immediately procured their own skates and also started training on ice. Apparently what I always suspected is in fact true: the skate is mightier than the sword.

What I’m upset about is that blades are no longer constructed with that big curlie-cue in front where the toe-pick is now located. I think that was a good look. If any of you blacksmiths out there want to bring those back, I’ll be your first customer.

Now, not only do we have relatively advanced skate technology, but there is a whole industry of other quasi-essential goodies we can purchase as well. For example, at Skaters Landing in Greenwich, CT, you can buy fuzzy, neon green blade “soakers” that are the size of small, furry animals. You can also purchase tiny, ballet-type shirts that are so elastic, they start out about the size of your hand yet miraculously stretch to fit over your whole torso. The best part is that, while you try on your new skates, or let them cook around your feet for the heat molding process, you can perch on seats that are in the shape of puzzle pieces. Now that’s something I bet the Viking skaters would have enjoyed.

I asked my “skate guy,” Mark Magliola at Skaters Landing what his hottest items are for the holiday season. He told me that he sells lots of little gloves with appliqué, jewelry, skating ornaments and Christmas cards. Mainly (and this is a point he clarifies for all the dads): it’s really all about the dresses.

I also got to ask him more questions about boots and blades, as a follow-up to last week’s installment:

So, in your business, I bet you see a lot of freakish feet?

I think anyone who fits boots or shoes can write a novel about their experience.  I never realized that there was such a variation of foot design. I now understand why hospitals take inked imprints of newborn’s feet. No two feet are the same. There are some general trends that I’ve noticed.

1. Most people have one foot bigger than the other.  It is the exception when we find someone with feet the same size.

2. I’d say that figure skaters are divided almost evenly between low and average height arches.  There are extreme examples:  I’ve seen feet where the arch is flat on the ground and others where the arch and instep are so high that a pencil could slide under the foot without touching the foot.

3. Other examples of variations:

  • Flexible arch that can change the length of the foot
  • Long toes
  • Short toes
  • Extremely narrow
  • Extremely wide
  • A foot that is narrow in the heel and arch area but extremely wide in the front (pizza foot)
  • Wide heel and wide front (brick foot)

The most worrisome foot is one that has a low arch and pronates extremely.  The skate boot can correct some of this but with a high level skater the misalignment of ankle, hip and knee can cause problems.  Checking with your pediatrician is called for in this case. Children can grow out of this condition but some don’t and orthotics may be called for.  I suggest checking with a specialist and/or a physical therapist to correct any muscle imbalance that is most likely the cause of extreme examples.

Tell me more about “coaching boots”.

I’ll tell you more about them after I try them.  This will be my next boot.  They have a layer of “thinsulate’ which is an insulating material.  They are softer than regular high end boots and if skated hard will break down.  For coaches like me, who teach dance and take students through the low level dance tests, I think they would be good.  I also stand around a lot and the insulating feature of the boot should be a plus.  I’ll let you know what my experience is after I’ve had them on through a winter.

Can you tell me three things every coach should know about boots?

I think most coaches know what I’m about to say and some may disagree.  But here goes.

  • Boots should fit the skater: meaning foot shape, age, and weight and skill level.  Just remember that a Jackson boot is normally shaped like a triangle, a Riedell a rectangle, a SP Teri with a snugger toe box and a Harlick with a snug toe box or a wider toe box if you specify the X series.  Grafs are softer (except for the Galaxy Model)… shall I go on?  Actually, at a basic skill level, where most of us work, the flexibility for the boot is of prime importance.  When suggesting a boot to us, tell us about your skater: strong legs, can’t bend knees, light, heavy, beginning jumper etc.  I can guess by looking and I am most often right.  However, I do make mistakes so the more information the better. By the way, we guarantee our work and if we are wrong we’ll replace the product.
  • If it isn’t broke don’t fix it:  If the only reason for changing a boot is to go up a size and the boot the skater is coming from was comfortable and effective for his/her level of skating, don’t change anything but the size. If weight has changed and/or skill improvement is placing more demands on the boot then go up a grade.  If the skater has not had a good experience with the skate (i.e. they caused a cramping pain across the front of the foot) possibly try a Jackson or special order a width for the present boots.
  • Cookie Cutters:  Skaters are not made from cookie cutters.  What worked for you as a kid may not work for your student. Each skater is unique so their equipment needs will differ from other skaters.

And, onto blades…Are you selling a lot of those colored Paramounts?  

No I’m not selling a lot of the Paramount colored blades.  As with any new product, it takes time to catch on.  Also from a marketing concern, there hasn’t been a great drive on the part of Paramount to develop dealers and create incentives.  Breaking into an established market with customer loyalty already in place is a high hurdle.  That being said, the advantages of the blade include durability and light weight.  The blade is made of titanium (aircraft metal) and is extremely light weight.  Sharpening is less frequent. For example, we suggest sharpening between 15 and 20 hours of skating.  With a Paramount, you can wait 50 to 60 hours.  The only draw back is that they are expensive. The high level version is similar to a Gold Seal, the low level close to a Pattern 99.  When you’re asking people to change their preferences at this level you have to give them a reason.

It seems to me that less and less people are sharpening figure skates and learning how to do so. Is this a dying art?

I don’t know how to answer that except to say that the demand is there but sharpening skates is not going to be one’s main source of income.  I teach and operate a figure skating store outside a rink.  Others are working in a rink.  In both cases the main income is from sale of equipment.  If you’re not involved in the industry at some level, than you have another occupation and sharpen part-time. Most rinks have ‘hockey shops’ and pay small attention to figure skates.  As you are aware, there is a difference between the techniques for sharpening a hockey skate and a figure skate.  Most ‘hockey shops’ don’t know this or don’t want to spend the time on it since the equipment part of their business generates more income.

Can you tell me three things every coach should know about blades?

  • Basic skill blades are all the same.  They have the same toe pick, the same rock and the quality of the steel is similar from one type to another.  They are made to assist balance, allow the development of edges and to have fun with.  Here I am speaking of Ultima, Wilson and MK blades, not the kind on the cheaper skates sold at department stores
  • Beyond the basic skills level, blades vary in all different directions.  As the skill of the skater improves, the focus of the skater may also narrow.  A high level dancer will want a dance blade, a full time Synchro skater may want a Synchro blade, and a freestyler will want a freestyle blade. Within each category there are numerous models with differing radius specifications and price levels. Without getting too detailed, just realize that there are a large selection of blades with different skill focus, much more than even ten years ago.  Each manufacturer provides alternatives at different price points.  For example, the Pattern 99 from Wilson has two competing models: the Ultima Elite and the MK Vision.  They are essentially the same.
  • In the end, the student and parent will call the shots on blades (boots as well).  As a professional, you have to determine not only skill level but also the commitment of the student and how much resource there is for purchase of blades. In some cases, the blade will cost more than the boot.  This happens to the up and coming freestyler not ready for a stiff high level boot but the professional wants them on the high end blade to learn the balance.  This is a valid point but I have seen parents of new freestylers blanch when they see a set up costing $600.00 (400 of it blade) when they spent $110 the season before.  The point is that there are now lower priced alternatives that provide the same benefit.

Okay, finally…which boots are sexier for female coaches: white or tan? 🙂

If you want your legs to look longer, go for a tan boot.  As to which is sexier, I take no position 🙂

Thanks again Mark, for taking the time to share all this information during this busy season. And thanks for helping so many of us skaters (and coaches) put our freakish feet into skates that fit like gloves… and providing gloves that have little skates on them.

***

To visit the Skaters Landing Website, click: http://www.skaterslanding.com/

And notice the newest CSOM addition, over there on the right: Holidays on Ice Part 1, a previously-published skating short story I’m going to unfurl for your reading pleasure over the next few weeks.

Enjoy and thanks for reading. 

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4 Responses to “Interview: Boots and Blades, Part 2”

  1. Ralph Says:

    The rink where I teach is like the North Pole. I could really use a pair of those thisulate skates. By the way – how the heck did the company that made “Toe Coats” boot covers ever go out of business?

  2. Sergio Says:

    I read this week that, in 1572, the Dutch military laced up their ice skates to fight a battle against the Spaniards near Amsterdam.

    Did a hockey game break out?

  3. sony Says:

    what?! insulation?? lemme know if that thinsulate even remotely works.

  4. Susan Says:

    Great interview – I may go to Skater’s Landing the next time I need a custom fitting. When I taught at Rockefeller Rink last season, I kept a minihairdryer in the locker and during ice cuts, ran to the restroom, plugged the hair dryer in to try and unfreeze my toes. If “thinsulate” works, I’ll be purchasing them! Best, Susan

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