With winter in full swing, it’s the perfect time to get out and enjoy seasonal activities in the region. Whether in a serene park setting or a bustling rink with entertainment options galore, ice skating is a family-friendly way to get exercise, fresh air and spend time together.
“Ice skating is a way to spend meaningful time with family and friends outdoors in a season when it can be difficult to find activities to keep active,” says Lindsay Smith, marketing and public relations manager for Summit Metro Parks. “It’s good, old-fashioned fun that can be rewarding and is a great form of exercise.”
Before your family heads out on the ice, there are some safety guidelines to consider, including gear, clothing, and skating conditions. We asked area experts to weigh in to help you plan the perfect outing.
Benefits of Ice Skating
Heather Trnka, injury prevention supervisor for Akron Children’s Hospital, says, “Winter exercise can be a challenge for some, but ice skating and hockey are great alternatives for cabin fever and to help keep kids active. Not to mention they are great sports to develop balance and coordination, as well as cardiovascular health.”
Dr. Laura Goldberg, pediatric sports medicine at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s, says that as an aerobic sport, skating quickly raises your heart rate and breathing, making it a healthy challenge for your cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
“Depending on effort, recreational ice skating can burn well over 500 calories per hour and improve your aerobic capacity if done regularly,” she adds. “Like most forms of exercise, there are significant mental benefits, as well. Learning to skate reinforces the valuable lesson of ‘try and try again,’ as most people fall a lot when learning. Few people get it the first time. However, once one succeeds in skating, it is a great confidence booster.”
Common injuries related to ice skating can range from bumps and bruises to serious head injuries.
“To help prevent (injuries), it is important to ensure ice skates are sharpened — and don’t forget the helmet,” says Trnka, adding that taking formal skating lessons also can help reduce injuries by teaching skaters how to stop properly and manage their speed.
“Beginner skaters have an increased incidence of wrist and knee injuries due to falling forward on outstretched arms and landing on knees, although back and hips also are susceptible to bruising and injury,” Goldberg cautions. “Less common injuries include head trauma after losing balance or colliding with other skaters. Wearing protective gear such as wrist braces, knee pads and a helmet can reduce injury rate and severity at all levels.”
The time can fly when everyone’s having fun on the ice, but it’s important to take breaks, according to Smith, which is why Summit Metro Parks provides benches and fire pits for rest and warming breaks at its outdoor rinks at the Big Bend Area of Sand Run Metro Park and at Furnace Run Metro Park.
Dress for the Weather
When dressing for warmth, wear layers beneath a coat, gloves and hat.
“If clothing gets wet, it is very important to get inside quickly to prevent cold weather injuries like frostbite,” says Trnka. “Keep in mind the temperature — at zero degrees with 15 mph winds, frostbite can happen in 30 minutes.”
Cover all areas of skin with clothing, including your face and hands, advises Goldberg, adding, “It may be necessary to wear a neck up to warm the air as you breath to limit irritation and decrease risk of reactive airway or asthma flare. Also, skin protectants, such as dermatome, help prevent windburn, sunburn, frostbite and dry skin.
“Dressing in layers is helpful as you will likely get sweaty while skating,” she continues. “To avoid getting cold while sweating, wear multiple layers of moisture wicking clothes and a breathable wind breaking coat. Bring a dry layer to put on once you stop. You may want an extra pair of socks in case yours get wet.”
Get the Right Gear
Whether renting or buying skates, make sure they are comfortable and sized correctly.
“Make sure ankles are supported and, to prevent blisters, make sure skates fit tightly — but not too tightly,” Trnka advises. “Ask for a different pair if the skates you rented aren’t a good fit. When buying skates, be sure to take along heavy socks to make sure you have the right size.”
Look for a helmet specifically designed for skating or ice hockey, and follow the three-step test for proper fit (safemobilityproject), the same as you would for a bike helmet, Trnka says.
“Many parents forget about the helmet for recreational ice skating, but it is especially important for those first learning to skate because there is a higher chance of falling backwards and striking the back of the head, potentially causing a traumatic brain injury or concussion,” she adds.
Use Caution on the Ice
One benefit of skating on public rinks (like those listed in our Winter Fun Directory) is that experts check and manage the ice to ensure its safety. If you plan to skate on a frozen pond, precautions must be taken.
“Check the ice thickness to ensure that the ice is sturdy enough to hold your weight,” says Goldberg. “Before checking, let others know what you are doing and have an emergency plan in place. Only check the ice thickness if the edge is frozen several inches thick — and then only check with a buddy system. Have flotation devices and a change of clothes in case you misjudge. Generally, four inches is a safe thickness to hold a skater, but the ice needs to be thicker for groups of people.”
Trnka cautions that ice can crack even when it looks safe.
“There should always be an adult supervising from the side who would get help quickly if something were to happen,” she says. “If the ice begins to crack or break, it is important to get down as low as possible to the ice and crawl to the side. Distributing your weight evenly can increase the chance of getting to safety; this is safer than if you tried to skate really fast.”
Where to Take Your Family
There are many places in the region to go ice skating. If you opt for a park, pack a thermos of hot cocoa and bring hiking gear to extend the fun; or check the area for a nearby nature center for a cozier indoor option.
If visiting a city rink, such as those at Crocker Park, Pinecrest, Public Square, Wade Oval, or Lock 3, grab lunch nearby and stay for some shopping or a museum visit.
Skate for Sport
Dr. Laura Goldberg, pediatric sports medicine at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s, offers the following tips for competitive hockey players and figure skaters:
Injuries vary by intensity, skill, and type of skating. Most of competitive figure skating injuries include lower extremity and back due to falling as learning more technical or difficult tricks. Also, the hours and intensity of skating practice can lead to overuse injuries. Off-ice training for hip and core strength are essential for the competitive skater. As with all training, it is important to have periods of increased intensity balanced with periods of recovery training.
Ice skates are more technical than one might think. The rentals found at most ice rinks are for beginner skaters with a boot that is less rigid and non-moldable. Ice skates range from beginner to elite and have several characteristics to consider. The blade may be bought separately from the boot or bought all in one. For the occasional recreational skater, a less stiff boot is best. As the frequency and skill level improve, there are different levels of stiffness to provide better control. The stiffer the boot, the more support but also the more likely to rub if not well fit.
All skates should be snug and laced tightly. Most skates take time to wear in and one can expect blisters for the first few weeks skating. If pain develops after the first few weeks, you may need a different skate style or stiffness. If you plan to skate regularly, it is a worthwhile investment to buy your own skates. Ask your coach for advice or go to a store that specializes in skates.