How to Ice Skate

Aright, bitches, ’tis the season, so listen up.

Ice skating is awesome. When you’re going fast it is the closest a human being can get to flying. The American Psychiatric Association defines “not liking ice skating” as a mental disorder. It’s in their diagnostic manual.

I always see a lot of n00bs ice skating, which is great! Here are some tips.

(1) You will fall. Get used to it.

(2) Ice skating is not walking on ice. The physics is different.

When you walk, you push backward with one foot. (See Figure 1.) If your foot has good traction on the ground, it can’t slip back, though, so instead you are pushed forward. (Newton’s third law of motion, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”)

Figure 1

You cannot do this on ice skates, padawan, because you are on a blade that’s like a sixth of an inch thick. If you push your foot straight back, there is not enough area of the blade making contact with the ice to produce good traction. (See Figure 2.) Instead of being planted on the ice and thus propelling you forward, your foot will simply slide back. Then, because you’re a n00b, you’ll fall down. (Newton’s lesser-known fourth law of motion, “N00bs fall down.”)

Figure 2. The thin black line is your blade’s contact with the ice.

How do you deal with this? Well, plainly you need more area of the blade making contact with the ice. Simply turning your foot somewhat sideways does it. (See Figure 3.) This gives your foot enough traction, so when you push it back, the only thing that can happen is that the rest of you goes forward.

Figure 3. (The extent to which the foot is turned here is exaggerated for clarity.)

Meanwhile you are pointing the other foot in roughly the direction you want to go, so you glide forward on that foot. (As per Newton’s fifth law, “Ice is slippery.”)

Then the feet switch roles, with the gliding foot becoming the foot you’re pushing back with, and the pushing foot becoming the gliding foot. Repeat.

Once you learn this, it really is easy and natural.

(3) On falling: One of the problems is that your instincts about righting yourself when you’re off balance are all wrong. Moves that help you regain your balance when you’re on terra firma don’t necessarily help you, to put it mildly, when you’re skating on blades on ice. You have to learn new reflexes (if learned reflexes isn’t an oxymoron). I can’t re-wire your neural wiring that handles these reflexes, so I don’t know what to tell you here, except that you have to practice.

(4) “Crossover,” logically enough, is the term for when you cross one foot over the other. You’ve seen this: It’s that thing a skater does where it seems like his feet are moving independently of the direction his body is traveling in, so it looks like he’s moonwalking or something.

Crossovers function best when you’re turning at high speed and really leaning into the turn. You do this naturally when you turn while running on ground, but when you do that your foot is planted. When you’re skating, in contrast, you continue to glide on that foot as you shift your weight into the turn, so that for a moment the foot is actually moving in a different direction from your body’s center of mass.

Crossovers are a great way to add speed with relatively little effort, because gravity is doing some of the work for you. When you change direction you lean in the direction you want to go in. So you start to fall in that direction. Before you fall very far, though, you put a foot out under yourself so you glide in that direction instead of falling.

By the way, when you take a turn with a fast series of crossovers, it actually is as fun as it looks. Hell, it’s much more fun. There’s a power and smoothness that is like nothing else. Cf. comment above, in re: “flying.”

(5) Control: As long as you’re not going too fast, turning is so easy that it’s practically subliminal. (No crossovers for the moment; I’m not talking about that level of speed.) What is actually going on, of course, is that you’re shifting your weight ever so slightly in the direction you want to go in. But it feels like you’re just thinking yourself into changing direction. Telekinesis!

(6) Efficiency: Another way you can tell n00bs, even after they’ve learned to not fall much, is by how much energy they waste. In extreme cases it looks like they’re expending half again as much energy as they need to per foot-pound of work accomplished.

If this is you, don’t worry; this takes care of itself over time. Your body’s natural reluctance to waste energy will quickly make you adjust so that your motion is economical.

(7) Stopping. Several n00bs at rinks have asked me for advice, particularly about how to stop.

The correct answer is: Stopping is for the weak and timid! Are you a wuss!? Are you!? Huh!? Good, I didn’t think so. Let’s have no more nonsense about stopping.

If you insist, though, you can just point yourself at a wall. That usually works.

All kidding aside: There are basically two ways to slow yourself down, and if you keep slowing long enough you’ll stop.

The first I call the two-feet method: Just point your skates toward each other, while keeping your legs stiff so your feet don’t actually come together. If your feet bump into each other you’ll fall, obviously. But if you hold your feet apart at that angle, the blades will scrape against the ice, slowing you. And if you keep doing it, stopping you.

You can feel and hear the scraping, at least if you’re not at a rink where they constantly blast fucking country music over the sound system at full volume, what the actual fuck, not that I’m complaining or anything, but what the fuck? Don’t they know that playing that shit voids the warranty on your speaker system? Anyway…

The second method of stopping is the much-admired “hockey stop.” That’s the one you think of when I say “how to stop,” where they turn sideways and kick up ice shavings.

Just turn sideways and dig the blade of your leading foot into the ice. You’re also using your trailing foot, of course, but more for balance than friction, at least the way I do it (YMMV). Also, you’re doing some rapid adjustment of your balance, naturally.

When you first try this you’re going to think, “I shall now attempt a hockey stop.” That’s well and good, but you learn faster if you just think, “Shit! I need to stop!” and imagine what you’d do if you really needed to stop suddenly. This makes it more instinctive and less cerebral.

(8) Sharpness matters so your blades dig in. You need this (a) for acceleration, so your pushing foot can bite into the ice, (b) to slow yourself and stop, and (c) to execute a crossover. (Probably for six other reasons that I’m not thinking of at the moment too.) When you’re doing a crossover, the gliding foot has to bite into the ice to a certain extent or the foot will just slide out from under you. This happened to me once when I was trying to take too steep an angle with my gliding foot. Foot shot backward, rest of body went, “Hello, ice!”

The blade has some thickness; it’s not a knife blade. It’s the blade’s edges that are sharp. Once I actually drew blood from my hand accidentally with the edge. But that was probably right after they’d been sharpened; normally blades aren’t that sharp.

(9) Miscellany:

(A) Little kids on the ice are cute, but DANGER DANGER DANGER!!! Partly this is because they can’t control themselves yet, and partly because even the ones who can control themselves have no social awareness whatsoever. If they see Mom over there, they will simply turn with no warning in that direction, and if you’re behind them you’re going to be doing some fancy dancing to not hit them. This leads to hilarity and occasional bruises, because of course you’re going to steer yourself into a wall or shift so that you fall, instead of plowing into a little kid.

I recently cracked my elbow into the wall of a rink because I had to dodge a little one who seemed to execute a right-angle turn right in front of me with no warning. I had to do something to avoid smashing into him and ended up saying Hi to the plexi-glass. He didn’t even realize it had happened, but I did get a sympathetic look from someone on the other side of the glass.

They can also turn quite suddenly because their centers of gravity are so low. It’s like they’re equipped with little inertialess drives.

Just remember this:

Little kids on ice = Brownian motion + inertialess drives.

(B) Use your ears as well as your eyes to help maintain awareness of other skaters in your vicinity. Thus you can avoid pulling a “little kid” and turning suddenly just when someone’s coming up behind you.

Caveat: In the corners of the rink, noise bounces around weirdly. Sometimes it sounds like someone is coming up behind you and just about to smash into you. You’re like “Gah!” but when you look around there’s no one within ten yards.

(C) Downhill skating. Sweet! But why didn’t they have this when I was 19? You kids today don’t know how good you have it, let me tell you, when I was your age I had to skate 40 miles to school, and it was uphill both ways! By God!

(D) This is a politically incorrect blog, so an observation about the sexes. Normal people, continue to read; shrieking feminist shrikes, go somewhere else (permanently).

Still with me? OK, a fun observation:

All good skaters have both power and grace, strength and fluidity. But there is a difference between good female skaters and good male skaters. Good female skaters have power – you can’t be a good skater without it – but they have more grace compared to male skaters. And good male skaters have grace – you can’t be a good skater without that, either(*) – but they have more power compared to female skaters. Just a nice little “the world is gendered” observation to affirm normality and freak out the screaming SJWs.

If you’re like most people, i.e. psychologically normal, you understand (there was a time when no one denied this!) that the sexes are different and that the differences, in so many ways, can be a source of delight to everyone. This is just a small example of that.

* Even the most brutal hockey player, 190 pounds of muscle and missing three front teeth, who starts throwing jabs at the slightest provocation, has grace on the ice. If you don’t believe me, Youtube is your friend.

(10) Have fun!