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Friends in D.C. are always surprised to hear I didn’t grow up snowboarding, skiing or ice skating even though I lived in northern Utah. Sure, I went to the occasional birthday party at the local ice rink where I held on to the edge and shuffled like a clumsy penguin while friends yelled, “Let go! You can do this!” But other than that, I didn’t pay much attention to winter sports. They were something that other people did. Until high school when I visited my favorite swimming hole in the winter, I didn’t realize we even had natural ice.

A few of my classmates had set up goals and they played hockey while I cringed, imagining them all falling through the ice and into the murky pond water. Suffice to say, I’m one of those people who claims they know things about skating when I don’t actually know much about it at all.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with Alissa Strawcutter, a skate instructor at Pentagon Row and MedStar Capitals Iceplex, for some tips for anyone just starting out — or for those in denial, like me.

1. Start with figure skates.
I’ve always gotten mixed reviews when it comes to starting with figure skates or hockey skates, but Strawcutter put an end to the debate.

“The blade is longer on the figure skates, which provides more stability,” Strawcutter says. “Figure skates also have the toe pick in front and that helps people when they fall. People can dig those into the ice to help push themselves back up.”

Having tried both, figure skates also feel tighter and more secure. You’re already wobbly on the ice, so you don’t want to also feel wobbly in too-big skates.

Strawcutter also recommends helmets (especially for kids), gloves and even snow pants. She says if you want to buy your own skates, don’t get cheap ones from somewhere online. You want to actually try them on. MedStar Iceplex sells skates and does fittings and sharpening if you’re in the market.

2. Your limitations are often psychological.
“If you can get over that mental aspect and just let your body go with the flow,” Strawcutter says, “you’ll do a lot better.”

Science about the “flow state” is gaining traction in the athletic world. You’ve likely felt it at some point — the strange and lovely hypnotic feeling when you let your mind wander and your body take over.

I visited Pentagon Row to put Strawcutter’s advice to the test and while I’ll admit I started my first couple of loops hanging onto the wall, when “Heat Waves” by Glass Animals came on the rink’s playlist I wondered if singing the lyrics in my head might distract me enough.

“A lot of times, if I’m doing a private lesson I start talking to try and distract the students,” Strawcutter says.

I thought if I could talk to myself about anything but what my body was doing, I might be able to flow. And you know what? It worked. I let go of the wall, skated to the beat and forgot about analyzing my body’s every move. It was freeing.

3. Consider your posture.
“Bend at your knees, not at your hips,” Strawcutter says. “And keep your back straight.”

Strawcutter says many people begin to hunch because they’ll watch their feet, which automatically shifts your weight forward, throwing off your balance. Instead, she says you want your posture to look almost like you’re sitting in a chair. This keeps your weight evenly distributed so there is less chance of falling.

“Don’t look at your feet,” Strawcutter says. “Think about what your feet are doing. Look forward to the path in front of you.”

This advice was especially helpful at Pentagon Row on a Saturday night when the rink was somewhat crowded. It’s natural to want to watch your feet in this new environment but doing so signals a strange caution to your body — and could also result in collision with other novice skaters.

When I kept my eyes up, knees bent and back straight, I felt a security I didn’t know was possible on the ice. I could skate faster with confidence.

4. Get the falling part over with.
The biggest mental block in skating, at least for me, is the idea of falling. It’s happened to me before and while it’s not terrible, it’s not fun either. Falling forward, knees slamming down on the hard ice — it’s no wonder new skaters are afraid.

“You want to try to fall to one of the sides,” Strawcutter says. “And obviously avoid falling on your head.”

When you fall, instead of trying to get up from your back like an overturned beetle, get on all fours. Bring one foot up, make sure it’s secure, then put one or two hands on your knees and rise. Strawcutter practices this method with her students.

“Once they fall, they realize it’s not so bad,” Strawcutter says. “I’ve never had anyone get hurt from falling.”

While I totally agree with getting the fall out of the way, I do have to brag because thanks to Strawcutter’s other advice, I didn’t fall once. This is actually huge for me. And I think it’s possible for you, too.

Rink Rundown

Interested in putting this advice to the test? Here are a few rinks in the District that are open until the end of February, some going into March. Almost all the rinks offer lessons for adults and kids if you’re interested.

Canal Park Outdoor Ice Skating
This rink has a few loops that make you feel a lot more professional than you are. Right on M Street and near a few different restaurants in Navy Yard, this location is sure to provide a lovely winter evening out. 200 M St. SE, DC; // @canalparkdc 

MedStar Capitals Iceplex (Indoor Arena)
If you’re curious about the Iceplex mentioned in the article, feel free to visit this arena year-round. You can take lessons, buy equipment and skate whenever you feel like it. 627 N Glebe Rd. Suite 800 Arlington, VA; // @medstarcapitalsiceplex

Pentagon Row Outdoor Ice Skating
The ice rink I visited sits between a few different restaurants, which allows for the perfect night out. Do some skating and then get some coffee from Origin or a few buns from Bun’d Up. 1201 S Joyce St. Arlington, VA; // @pentagonrowskating

Silver Spring Outdoor Ice Skating Rink
A large outdoor rink with a colorful lighted roof in the beautiful downtown area of Silver Spring, this rink hosts lessons for kids and adults, as well as open rink time. And it’s even open on holidays. 8523 Fenton St. Silver Spring, MD; // @silverspringiceskating 

Washington Harbour Ice Rink
An ice rink created where a fountain is in warmer seasons, this circular rink adds one more event to all Georgetown has to offer. Get into the flow as you skate along the Potomac River surrounded by city lights. 3050 K St. NW, DC; // @washingtonharbour

The Wharf Ice Rink
“It’s the only over-water ice rink,” Julie Keleti, marketing and communications manager for The Wharf, says. “Since it’s located on Transit Pier, you can see the waterfront views and the monuments.” Every Wednesday in January 2022, the Wharf Ice Rink will host Curling and Cocktails, another fun way to get out on the ice. 970 Wharf St. SW, DC; // @thewharfdc

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