There is a line in early-1990s rom-com The Cutting Edge where former hockey player Doug explains to his new doubles figure skating partner Kate how skating is more than just the desire to win. "That's me smelling the ice. I told this guy once I loved how ice smelled; it became this thing – somebody got a camera."
An entire generation has grown up with this film and the smell of ice. Twenty years ago, skating was a very unpretentious and much-loved activity for young and old in Sofia and larger cities that had their own ice rinks. At weekends, the free Cherveno Zname, Yunak and Slavia rinks would be swamped by throngs of people. The Winter Palace, which had the reputation as the best place to skate, offered slick ice and the opportunity to see the latest models of skates on the feet of top skaters.
As funds for proper maintenance of ice rinks dwindled, many ice rinks closed down and others were deserted, with only the most ardent aficionados staying faithful to skating; even competitive skaters had to train in spartan conditions. New ice age Over the past several years, amateur ice skating has made a comeback, mainly because of the recent fashion for open-air rinks. In most Bulgarian cities and large towns, construction begins at the end of November – usually in the centre (funded either by the city hall or large private companies) or near large shopping malls. Depending on weather conditions, these rinks stay open until the end of March.
Last year, Bourgas had a 600 square metre rink; but even smaller towns like Haskovo and Pazardjik had their own rinks. In Plovdiv, the place to skate is at the Galleria Plovdiv, in Rousse it is Mall Rousse and in Veliko Turnovo, next to Ivailo stadium.
Residents of Sofia and Varna are the most fortunate because these two cities have indoor rinks that operate nearly year-round. In Sofia, the choice is between the Winter Palace and Slavia sports complex, but the largest open-air rink is next to Ariana Lake at the Eagles Bridge; you can also take your skates to the rinks next to Ivan Vazov National Theatre or The Mall on Tsarigradsko Chausee Boulevard. In Varna, the Mladost indoor rink works all year.
The generation that grew up on The Cutting Edge counts many a parent who, as it turns out, still has that love for the smell of ice that they wish to impart to their children.
Learning to skate There are several ways for youngsters to make their first acquaintance with the ice. The most ambitious parents will enlist their children for professional training and these children, understandably, are the ones who catch on the fastest. The drawback is that such training begins at the tender age of four or five, and it is very time-intensive, with long training sessions several times a week and secondary training in ballet.
The alternatives are instruction in large groups of children or learning on your own on a free rink.
Most rinks, including the open-air ones, offer tutoring under the supervision of a professional from a private sports club. These are available for children and adults and are focused on mastering the basic skills of skating – it is a good option for parents who have never skated in their life, but would like to share that experience with their children.
Such groups would not have any skilled skaters, save for the instructor (often a former competitive skater) – children and adults alike will fight together against gravity, fall and repeat skating moves time and time again until they can hold their own against the tricky ice.
With some luck, and a good instructor, there is every chance that your child will love skating and want to get better. The laughter after inevitable falls, comical attempts to maintain equilibrium, flushed cheeks and shared muscle fever can make for lasting memories.
But for parents who want to dispense with group exercises or are keen on teaching their children on their own, the best way to go is an open-air rink, where one can do as they please. Much like with riding a bike, one does not forget how to skate – nor can one have enough of it. Just remember to have patience and suppress any involuntary desire to race a fellow skater who just undercut you.
Equipment Good skates can be expensive, which is why many a parent will wonder whether to invest in a pair until they are certain that their child's interest will hold. Often, the solution is to rent skates, a service that practically every rink offers, with prices varying between three and eight leva.
The drawback is that rental skates tend to be well-used, making them uncomfortable, ill-fitting or bent – all of which could turn your child away from skating.
If you decide to buy, there is a wide choice of skates on the market, but a good starter set would be extendable skates that can be adjusted to account for your child's growth. The important thing to know when shopping for skates is that they have to be snug fits both around your ankles and your feet.
You will see experienced skaters take to the ice in t-shirts and even short skirts, but the best equipment if you are just learning to skate is pants and a jacket. Gloves are also a must – the thicker, the better. In addition to keeping your hands warm, they will provide additional padding when falling on ice and protection against inadvertent contact with the sharp steel of a passer-by's skates. After spending half an hour on the ice, you might also discover a deep and abiding love for your warm hat that you decided to keep on.
All that is left is to bring some pure and unadulterated joy at the feeling of weightlessness, especially when it is accompanied by the happy laughter of a child skating "like a grown-up." It may be that the days after your skating sessions will make getting behind your desk at work a challenge, but remember that every fall brings you that much closer to that intoxicating smell of ice too.
Free-skating sessions Indoor free rinks have fixed working hours. The Winter Palace is open every day, save Monday, from 7pm to 8.30pm. On weekends, there is also an earlier session between 5pm and 6.30pm. At Slavia, the working hours are 6.30pm to 8pm on Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as 11.30am to 1pm and 5pm to 6.30pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Entrance is five leva in either rink.
Varna's Mladost rink has a more complicated schedule, with free sessions in the middle of every working day (11am to 2.30pm), as well as between 7pm and 8.30pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. At weekends, four 90-minute free skating sessions are scheduled between 1pm and 8.30pm, with 30-minute breaks for ice maintenance in between. Entrance is four leva.
For after-work skating, turn your sights on the open-air rinks, which work until very late or even around the clock, offering some good deals on late-night sessions. For example, you can skate on Ariana Lake rink in Sofia as long as you want (or can) between 10pm and 8am for the price of one five-leva ticket. Free for pupils School pupils can skate for free in the Winter Palace until the end of February as part of the Sports Ministry's "Never too late for a new start" programme, which covers a number of sports, including short-track skating (8.15am-9.15am on Mondays and Sundays, 10.45am-11.45am on Wednesdays, 9.30am-10.30am on Thursdays, 9.15am-10.15am on Fridays) and figure skating (8.15am-9.15am on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9.30am-10.30am on Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as 10.45am-11.45am again on Fridays.)
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