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What is Ice Skating?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Ice skating is a popular winter sport, as well as a mode of transportation, in a variety of northern countries. Seasonal rinks are often built in warmer climates as well, especially for the traditional winter holidays, such as Christmas. Several Olympic sports are carried out on ice skates, including figure skating, speed skating, and hockey. Nations from all over the world field skating teams, thanks to indoor rinks that make it possible year round.

Specialized skating shoes, usually with a single blade, are required for ice skating, and people who practice this sport skate around on an icy area, such as an ice rink or frozen body of water. Skate blades are also sold separately for attachment to conventional shoes, although skaters should be careful to make sure that they have enough ankle support. Skilled ice skaters can execute complex jumps and other movements, while beginners often find themselves flat on the ice more frequently than they would like.

Crude ice skates have been found dating back to 3,000 BCE, suggesting that humans have been using blades to get around on ice for thousands of years. These early skates were made of bone, and they were designed to be tied to existing footwear with leather straps. Other early skates were made from wood and stone that were tooled in a variety of ways for the best skating experience. In the 1600s, skates made from metal began to appear, with the idea of a skating shoe emerging in the 1800s.

As many prints commemorating the holiday season suggest, ice skating has been a popular form of entertainment for all economic classes for centuries, with some northern cities holding large fairs on the winter ice. In some northern cities, it was also more efficient to travel on ice skates than via conventional roads. Skating competitions emerged in Scandinavia, where almost all citizens knew how to skate and spent much time in the winter racing on frozen bodies of water, and later dancing to music as well.

Until the late 1870s, ice skating was only possible in northern winters, when lakes, ponds, and rivers would freeze over enough to bear weight. In 1876, John Gamgee built an indoor refrigerated rink in London, which became an overnight success. With the introduction of the Zamboni® resurfacing machine, a specialized machine used for rink maintenance, ice skaters are able to enjoy smooth surfaces to skate on at all times of the year, all over the globe.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Sports n' Hobbies researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By julies — On Oct 30, 2012

I know they have some great indoor ice skating rinks, but it seems like most of my ice skating experiences have been outside. When I was growing up I remember skating on the streets of our small town after we would get a thick layer of ice. This was the easiest way to get around, and much safer than trying to drive a car.

Years later when we lived in the country we had a pond that we always enjoyed skating on once the ice was thick enough. This was a lot of fun having a place to ice skate so close to home, but it had it disadvantages too.

It would have been nice to have some kind of machine similar to the Zamboni to keep it clean and smooth. After a snowstorm it was a lot of work getting the snow off the ice and keeping it smooth. If you left the snow on there for too long, the ice would be really bumpy and hard to skate on.

By golf07 — On Oct 30, 2012

A few years ago our community built an outdoor ice skating rink. We have cold winters so this is open for about 4-5 months during the season. This has become a very popular place for families to spend an afternoon or evening. They offer refreshments as well, so after skating around for awhile it is always nice to stop and warm up with a cup of hot chocolate.

By LisaLou — On Oct 29, 2012

I am always inspired when watching the figure skating and speed skating during the winter Olympics. One year when visiting Colorado Springs, we were able to visit the Olympic training center there where some of athletes who train on the ice practice.

Unfortunately nobody was training when we were there, but it was still a neat place to visit. I am always amazed at how graceful and easy the professional ice skaters make it seem. After watching them skate, I feel like I can put on a pair of ice skates and glide across the ice.

In reality, this is a much different story. I have found learning how to ice skate quite challenging and found myself falling on the ice more than I thought I would. To be good at ice skating it takes a lot of practice and patience that I don't have, but I love to watch those who do put in all that time and practice.

By myharley — On Oct 29, 2012

@seag47 -- I have been roller skating and ice skating, and think that ice skating is much harder. First of all, you are trying to balance on one small blade as opposed to larger wheels on a pair of roller skates. I think this makes it a lot harder on your ankles, and find that I can't stay up on ice skates very long just because my ankles start hurting so much.

I also think it is easier to roller skate because you are usually skating inside a building with a smooth floor. The times I have ice skated outside, the ice was often bumpy and when you are already a bit shaky on skates, this doesn't help at all.

By Perdido — On Jul 20, 2012

I liked to go ice skating in my tennis shoes as a kid. I didn't have any ice skates, but I really didn't need them.

The shallow pond in front of my house froze solid in January, and I got out there with my flat bottomed sneakers and cautiously eased out onto the ice. It was the most slippery substance I have ever stepped onto, but once I got a feel for it, I was able to move my feet around and get going.

That was some of the most fun I have ever had. I didn't have to worry about balancing too much, since my sneaker bottoms were much wider than the blade of an ice skate. I even managed to do some twirls!

By seag47 — On Jul 19, 2012

I am great at roller skating, so I naturally assumed I would be awesome at ice skating. How come the two are so different?

I put on a pair of ice skates for the first time when I was twenty, and I could not stand up on the ice. There was no way that I could balance myself on that little blade.

I figured that my ankles were pretty strong from all the roller skating I have done, but they just weren't prepared for ice skates. I had to hold onto the railing around the rink the whole time, and the annoying referee kept skating by and blowing the whistle at me, because you weren't supposed to rely on the railing constantly. I got annoyed and screamed out that I couldn't stand up without support.

By healthy4life — On Jul 19, 2012

@DylanB – I'm pretty sure that even the professionals wear panty hose to keep their legs warm. Maybe you guys should have put on some leggings. Those would have looked cute while keeping your bare skin from being exposed to the cold.

Personally, I wear jeans every time I go ice skating. This is because I know that I will be falling down a lot, and the denim is tough enough that it won't rip easily when I hit the ice. It's pretty good at keeping my body's warmth in and the cool air out, too.

I have friends who wear thermal underwear and layer several shirts over it to keep warm while ice skating. I tend to get warm from the workout, though, so I just wear the jeans without leggings.

By DylanB — On Jul 18, 2012

Ice skating in dresses is a bad idea, unless the wearers are professionals. My friends and I wanted to look cute for this group of guys that we were meeting at the rink, so we decided to wear dresses.

I don't know what we were thinking. The ice made freezing air radiate upwards, making our legs so cold that we could barely feel them anymore. Also, several of us fell, exposing our underwear!

We were the best dressed people at the rink, but we were also the coldest and most ridiculous looking. Everyone just stared at our bare legs like we had lost our minds!

By Ted41 — On Jul 17, 2012

I definitely associate ice skating with the holiday season. It's funny, because my local ice skating rinks are open all year round, but I only ever go during the winter time around the holiday's. For some reason ice skating just doesn't seem appealing in the summer.

However, I'm pretty sure people who do ice skating as a sport ice skate all year round, which makes sense. After all, if you take months long breaks in training, you could lose all your hard earned skating skills!

By eidetic — On Jul 16, 2012

@ceilingcat - I agree with you. Plus, a lot of areas have outdoor local ice skating rinks that are man made. So you can enjoy being outside, but you don't have to worry about skating on an actual body of water. In my opinion, an ice skating rink is usually smoother anyway. I much prefer that to skating on a lake or pond.

Anyway, wherever you do it, I think ice skating is really good exercise. Every time I go, I always have so much fun, and then my legs are really sore afterwards. That's how I know I got a good workout in while ice skating.

By ceilingcat — On Jul 15, 2012

I just wanted to point out that indoor ice skating is much safer than trying to ice skate outdoors on a frozen lake or pond. If you're not careful skating outdoors, you can fall through the ice and drown!

It's very hard to tell when a lake or pond is frozen over enough to skate on, I think. Also, I think a lot of people are tempted to try to extend their ice skating season as long as possible, and try to skate outdoors when it's too warm.

So I think everyone should just save themselves the trouble and skate on a skating rink!

By andee — On Jul 14, 2012

My son has been to a few birthday parties at an ice skating arena. This is great fun for the kids and even if they have never skated before, they seem to enjoy themselves. Kids seem to catch on much faster than adults.

Even though I used to ice skate as a kid, I don't enjoy it like I used to. My ankles are not strong enough, and I find they are worn out after a few minutes of skating.

The older I get the more afraid I am of falling too. If I had the whole rink to myself it might be a different story, but when I am surrounded by kids that are just learning, I am too afraid I will get knocked over.

I am amazed at the people who glide across the ice on skates and make it look so easy. Only in my dreams would I be this graceful and confident on a pair of ice skates.

By sunshined — On Jul 14, 2012

One year when I was about 10 years old I received a pair of ice skates for Christmas. I lived in a small rural town, and we would skate on small ponds around the area.

One winter we had so much ice that all of the streets were covered. This year we skated all around town on the roads because that was the best way to get anywhere.

I still enjoy ice skating when I have the chance. Our community recently opened up an outdoor ice skating ring that is open through the winter months.

This is a great place for people of all ages to skate and enjoy an evening on the ice. They also sell hot chocolate and some other refreshments which is a nice bonus.

By John57 — On Jul 13, 2012

I have roller skated before, but have never been on a pair of ice skates. It always amazes me what someone can do one thin metal blade. I think I would spend more time laying on the ice than I would skating on top of it.

I love it when the winter Olympics are on, and watching the figure skating and speed skating are two of my favorite events.

One year shortly after the winter Olympics I went to an ice skating show with my mom. This included some of the Olympic skaters and it was thrilling to see them skate in person.

Our seats were right on the ice so we really got a close up look. They make ice skating look so easy and graceful, but I know this only comes from years and years of practice.

By bagley79 — On Jul 13, 2012

I have never had any ice skating lessons, but learned to ice skate on a pond in front of our house. We spent many hours on this frozen pond during the winter.

We tried to keep the snow off of the pond and to keep it as smooth as we could. There were times when the ice was pretty bumpy, but this didn't spoil our fun.

Sometimes we would have several other people join us and we would divide up in teams and play hockey. Many people don't like the cold winters, but we were always anxious for the pond to get a thick layer of ice on it so we could go ice skating.

We also hoped the ice would last until spring. If we had a very mild winter, we weren't able to get nearly as much ice skating in as we liked.

By turquoise — On Jul 13, 2012

@ankara-- That's true! You can't learn ice skating without falling, everyone has to go through that stage. But once you get the hang of it, it will become a lot easier and just like learning to ride a bike, you will always remember how to skate.

If you enjoy ice skating so much, why don't take some lessons? It's not very expensive and an instructor can give you many important tips so that you can skate better without falling.

I think the reason that beginners tend to fall a lot is because they can't stop when they want to. Stopping is actually harder than skating. You have to point your toes inward and bend your knees to slow down. But usually people point their toes out which doesn't slow them down and they either run into the side of the rink or fall or do both!

It also helps to get a good pair of skates. The ones provided at public ice skating rinks are usually not very good and don't fit properly.

By literally45 — On Jul 12, 2012

@anon2253-- Like the article mentioned, it was probably initially used as a mode of transportation by people who lived in cold, icy climates. For example, if people lived near a pond or lake that completely froze over in winter, they could cross it very easily by skating over it. I don't think it became a sport until later.

By the way, ice skating hasn't been unique to Western cultures. My friend who is very into Chinese history once told me that the Chinese used to do outdoor ice skating in the early 1800s as a sport. They even had an early form of ice hockey to entertain the Emperor. So clearly, ice skating wasn't only popular in the West, but in the East too.

By bluedolphin — On Jul 12, 2012

I went ice skating twice in the past, both during college. My university had an ice skating rink and we went a couple of times with my friends.

We were all beginners though so we had to hold onto each other or the sides of the rink not to fall. Despite that, I fell about six or seven times both times I went! I had bad bruises from the falls that took a couple of weeks to heal. I guess falling down is inevitable until you get the hang of skating on ice. It's a lot harder than regular skating because of the single blade. You have to put in more effort to stay balanced.

Even though I fell, I had so much fun while skating. It truly is a very unique experience. It makes you feel as though you are flying. I found it exciting and liberating. If I get the opportunity to go ice skating again, I will go. Even if my legs are all bruised up at the end, it will still be worth it!

By anon2253 — On Jul 04, 2007

we are aware that ice-skating is a very popular sport but what is the other reason people put on ice-skates?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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