Lace Up Your Skates

By Gretchen Westdal-Centers

An Iowa winter — love or hate it, can go on and on and… on. That’s why it’s important to find a variety of activities to enjoy when cabin fever peaks, and fresh air is the best antidote. One such activity is visiting the local ice rink with family, friends or friends-to-be! Ice skating, hockey and even broomball are great options to enjoy during the cold winter months. Sure, it might take a couple of attempts to find your footing, but with patience and a good attitude, getting out on a rink can provide a fun diversion and even health benefits.

Ice Out a Sedentary Lifestyle

Skating is a great way to improve cardiovascular health, balance, coordination and muscle strength, and it’s easy on the joints. Start slowly by easing into skating if it’s a new activity — or one that hasn’t been done in a while.

A great way for people of all ages to ease into ice skating is by walking around the rink with shoes on to get a feel for the ice. This will acclimate you to the rink and the slickness of the surface. Once on skates, take slow glides, using the edge of the rink or someone trustworthy and steady as help.  

Watching instructional videos on YouTube or other internet sources can help show how to safely stop, give tips on balance, and explain how to fall safely. Once the basics are learned, skating can be an enjoyable form of exercise and a great way to connect to a new active hobby. 

Get Your Gear

Before hitting the ice, finding the right gear will help set you up for success. Thanks to secondhand sporting goods stores and online marketplaces, burgeoning skating enthusiasts can find skates, hockey sticks and helmets for a bargain. Finding a pair of skates that fit both your foot and the activity is important. 

The Difference Between Skates

Hockey skates: These are designed to prioritize speed and have a shorter, wider blade. There is no toe pick on hockey skates, and the boot is stiffer, so it can support the ankle for greater speed work. 

Figure skates: With its recognizable toe pick at the front of the blade, the figure skate has a longer, flatter blade that can help with balance and offer a little more stability. The boot is often made of leather so it has more flexibility.

Many rinks have rental skates that can help you determine which type suits you best. 

Staying Warm, Staying Safe

To enjoy your time on the ice—especially if it’s outside—dress in layers that stay close to the body. Anything too bulky can hinder movement and make it trickier to move about the ice. Consider fleece-lined leggings or workout pants and long-sleeved shirts designed to keep warmth in. Be sure to wear gloves instead of mittens, as having fingers accessible can help tighten laces and adjust more easily.

Kids or anyone who’s very new to skating should consider wearing a helmet to prevent unnecessary head injuries. 

A young skater enjoys the Newton rink.

Hitting the Ice in Iowa

Lucky for Iowans, many different skating rinks — both inside and outside — offer the opportunity to hit the ice. From Mason City to Waterloo, Iowa has many different rinks. Several of them are run through the Iowa Wild’s community ice rink program. 
As the Des Moines-based American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL's Minnesota Wild, the Iowa Wild partners with cities to locate an ideal spot for a rink residents can enjoy. 
“We’ve been running the program for a few years now, providing outdoor ice rinks to local communities to give people an opportunity to put on skates, get out and have some fun,” explains Joey Goldstein, director of marketing, community programs for the Iowa Wild.  
There are currently 11 different towns that have rinks supported through the initiative. The Iowa Wild community rinks can be found in West Des Moines, Johnston, Ames, Ankeny, Indianola, Urbandale, Waukee, Grinnell, Altoona, Newton, and Marshalltown. 
“Whether people have skated in their lifetime or not, having the opportunity to try something different, especially in the winter months when you can’t do as much outside, is a great way to have a lot of fun,” says Goldstein. “We’re excited to see it continue year-over-year and grow the sport of hockey in Iowa.”
Rinks are typically open from dusk until dawn, and skaters are encouraged to BYOS (bring your own skates) or borrow from a friend or a neighbor. The rinks are usually run through the city’s parks and recreation department, and some even create their own programming. 
“I received an email from a woman in her 60s who hadn’t been skating in years, but because the rink was down the street from her, she had that opportunity to enjoy it again” remarks Goldstein. “She noted the sense of nostalgia it brought to her.”
Plans are in the works to expand the rinks throughout Iowa. “The more ice, the better,” exclaims Goldstein. 

Altoona celebrates the opening of their community ice rink with a
ribbon cutting attended by Crash, the Iowa Wild mascot. 

Opportunities for Kids

Goldstein also notes the Iowa Wild’s floor hockey program they bring into Iowa schools to encourage even more physical activity opportunities for Iowa’s youth. At no cost, schools and youth organizations can sign up for the Iowa Wild Healthy Living Floor Hockey Program which provides a curriculum to teach floor hockey. The school or group even receives gear to help get the game going.   

“How long schools choose to do the programming is up to them, but it can be as long as six weeks,” says Goldstein. “It covers the basics from passing to shooting and even gets into drills toward the end. We want to help people and make getting involved as easy as possible. Iowa Wild players and Crash [Iowa Wild’s mascot] often come along to get kids excited — and everyone who participates gets tickets to an Iowa Wild game.” 
The Iowa Wild wants to make sure kids interested in hockey have a chance to experience the game in person and create connections with their teammates and friends. 
For more information on this program, click here.