Ever since reluctantly unlacing my skates in the Herb Brooks Arena lobby for the last time last June, I have been looking forward to this year’s Lake Placid Adult Skating Weekend.
And this year’s skating camp for adults was even better than my first impression, which was so steeped in oodles of awe and excitement that I assumed my terminally hyperbolic tendencies must’ve overly romanticized SOME part of the experience.
A quick primer: Lake Placid Adult Skating Weekend (herein referred to as LPASW for brevity’s sake) is a long Thursday-Sunday weekend of adult skaters congregating in the utterly charming two-time Olympic host village’s legendary Herb Brooks Arena for group classes, freestyle time (12 hours of it!), private lessons, community-building, off-ice classes, and getting lost in the sport we love—all without having to either constantly look over our shoulders for tiny heat-seeking missiles a fraction of our age or beat back the feeling that you’re a second-class citizen who only exists to be an obstacle for younger skaters.
It. Is. Amaaaaaazing. I’m not kidding: For two years in a row now, I started counting down to the next year’s camp as soon as I got off the ice for the last time.
This year had a lot going for it that both pleasantly surprised me and really added to a sense of familiarity that made me feel like I belonged—which, for someone who took more than a year to feel like I had a place at morning freestyle sessions, goes a long way in quieting that inner monologue of confidence-sapping doubt. I remembered an awful lot of skaters from last year, I knew that a few Instagram friends would be there for first-time IRL hugs, all but two of the coaches I wanted to work with again were there, and the group classes felt a lot more intimate and individualized. Also, the differences in skating levels were not nearly as intimidatingly pronounced this year: Last year, there were people throwing down axels and doubles and triples on the same ice where others were simply content to hang onto their skating legs. If I felt comfortably middle-of-the-herd last year, I felt like I was actually holding my own this time around.
So the weekend started Thursday night with a meet-and-greet reception where we picked up our goodies (ID lanyards, got our folders that included both camp info AND an ice cream coupon that I actually got to use this time, and a T-shirt—plus, there was a fire sale of Lake Placid attire when I registered, so I’m the proud owner of a beautiful new skating jacket, too) and signed some medical waivers. The difference between my first year and second year were already immediately apparent: Last year, I awkwardly stood around until I tentatively approached a total stranger who was also nervously flipping through their schedule to look engaged, started chatting up someone I thought was a fellow attendee but was really a coach, or recognized a familiar face from the online adult skating community to glom onto. It actually was much easier for me to chat with fellow attendees this year, and the M&G flew right by in a flurry of hugs, enthusiastic recognitions, and warm reconnections.
Then we got to hit the ice for the first time.
I’ve skated on the seasonal outdoor speed-skating oval a bunch of times when I was younger, which is a mighty awesome experience even when you’re too much of a stereotypical teenager to act impressed by much of anything. But the indoor rinks are a whole different animal. There is such a palpable energy and sense of being somewhere so storied that it is almost thrumming with history and talent, and it makes every tracing you leave feel like it’s part of something so much bigger and more significant than you’re used to. It’s hard to not feel a shock of reverence with Olympic reminders and Miracle on Ice relics everywhere you look, and I was not the only one who stopped to giddily take it all in during the introductory warm-up class and freestyle session (and throughout the whole weekend, because the novelty just does not wear off). Top-of-their-game athletes have skated here, and it’s hard to resist the impulse to push yourself to your own greatest heights and beyond your limits.
Which is why I took every group class I could. There are 10 on-ice classes Friday-Sunday; of those 30, I took all but six. (Like last year, it seems that each day tends to get a little more advanced.) I first heard the LPASW sweet spot described as Bronze-working-toward-Silver, and I definitely think that’s an accurate assessment: I’m working on Bronze MITF now, and I was met with two days of classes that perfectly catered to the jumps, spins, basics, and elements I could always use some extra help with, and one day of classes that challenged—and rewarded!—me in all-new ways.
I do think this year’s weekend was a little more sparsely attended than last year’s—and it was perfect. The ice on both rinks, which are some of the smoothest, most accommodating surfaces I’ve ever skated on, were not nearly as chewed-up as they could have been: Even with my dull blades, every stroke felt like a hot knife through butter. I got to run through my entire MITF test without stopping to let someone else pass or losing my axis because I’m skating around other people. Every instructor was able to give me individual attention, whether it was correcting any of my myriad bad habits or shouting across the rink that I nailed it.
There is something to be said for working with a suite of coaches who don’t know you. I’ve been training with both of my home coaches for two years now, and they know my strengths, weaknesses, mental hurdles, personality, and learning style. They know what to expect from me and how to push at my comfort zone. Being thrown into a class with skaters of all levels and working with coaches who know nothing of my skating past is one of the best objective assessments I’ve ever subjected myself to, especially when they’re all zeroing in on one particular thing I’m doing incorrectly as it relates to the topic we’re focusing on.
—In an edge class, we worked on my eternally kinked
extensions, my body alignment, my terrible posture, and getting my free leg and
arm to work as one;
—The coaches focused on kicking my free leg up more on things like the waltz jump and salchow during those classes;
—Every spin class (and a handful of the jump classes) was a whole new lesson in shifting my weight to be centered over my axis;
—The few figures classes emphasized my total inability to be patient and taught me how to be more meditative and quietly in control while drawing figure eight after figure eight (the figures classes actually turned out to be among my favorites, partly because I—and the coaches—noticed how much I improved in just 25 minutes of intense re-education); and
—I work through my turns way too much, and the instructors leading those classes demonstrated how to be more effortless and how to essentially trust and yield to the curve.
My very last lesson was a private one, which was amazing (though I wish I had worked one-on-one with a coach BEFORE skating for more than 15 hours across four days beat the ever-loving hell out of me). Tracy Prussak taught one spin class I took last year, and I don’t really recall having much an impression of her; this year, she taught a handful of spin and jump classes and encouraged me so many times (including skating over to me in her waltz jump class and saying “I love you because I make a correction and you do it”) that I just liked her more and more every time she worked with me. I have struggled tirelessly to cross my ankles in a scratch spin, and she got me farther along in 20 minutes than I’ve been able to manage in the past year and half of inching toward spin progress. At one point, she observed that I seem to be a visual learner (I very much am), and shifted her teaching style to adapt to my learning style. It was a wonderfully motivating capstone to the weekend, and the effectiveness of it already has me thinking that I’ll be taking more private lessons than group classes next year.
What was really interesting to me was how different my body felt this year. I’m skating more now than I was a year ago, and I’m spending less time in my head watching and learning than I am using my body to adjust and advance. I came back to my hotel room after the first day and proceeded to house the previous night’s leftovers for lunch, nap for four hours, be awake long enough to throw some dinner down my facehole, and sleep for another eight hours—and it was because I didn’t stop spinning or jumping in three of the day’s classes and my body simply wasn’t used to skating hard for five solid hours.
But I did it. I made it through all three days of classes despite the lace bite, crunched toes, constellation of bruises, screaming back, and some extraordinarily tired legs. I was definitely moving slowly that last day, but it was that kind of physical exhaustion that’s well-earned evidence of wringing every drop of education and improvement I come to this camp to get.
Having a reference point for comparison really added to the experience. I was hoping to use LPASW as an annual yardstick for my own progress as a skater, and it seems like that’s exactly what it’ll be. There were things I struggled with last year that I warm up with now. There were classes I wouldn’t’ve even dreamed of taking last year that were 20 minutes of abject frustration followed by five minutes of total breakthroughs and one incredible sense of accomplishment—like the loops figure class, which was my introduction to them that absolutely tortured me until something clicked, the instructor cheered me on from across the ice before telling me that this is one hard move to be attempting for the first time, and then I managed to eke out some more very nascent attempts that actually followed the tracing I was using as a guide. Most significantly, I had wanted to come to LPASW with my loop jumps and back spins last year; they’re both still inconsistent works in progress, but I feel so much better about them more often now than I ever did a year ago. And being in a loop jump class that kicked off with a very inauspicious beginning and ended with the coach going “You got it!” by the end was some validation I badly needed.
And I gotta say, spending a few days in Lake Placid adds something magical to the whole experience. I was able to walk to the rink every day, and just starting my day with a five-minute walk through one gorgeous winter-sports mecca got me in a great headspace and just made me feel so immersed and in-tune with my surroundings before I even hit the ice.
Truly though, the highlight of the weekend is being surrounded by my fellow adult skaters. The coaching team is incredible—but they’re also lifetime skaters who don’t intimately understand what it’s like submitting yourself to learning something new with a body on the decline. At 35, I’m well-acquainted with being one of the oldest skaters on the ice; for LPASW, we Millennials are the youngbloods and it is one welcome perspective shift. I am constantly aware that any skate could be my last; on the first day of camp proper, I was waiting to buy my class tickets with an IG friend who may have been the youngest skater at camp and two skaters in their 60s who were talking about how they’re not giving up ‘til their bodies’ limits outshout their hearts’ desires. Another IG friend of mine and I were chatting before we even got to Lake Placid about how our timidness inhibits out progress; she explained that she’d rather progress slowly and skate longer than hurry through the ranks and spectacularly break herself beyond repair, which is exactly how I’ve been feeling but didn’t know how to explain. The camaraderie, collaboration, and connection that the adult skating community is so good at are on full, exuberant display here, and it’s a wonderful reminder that adults do, indeed, skate too—and that we’re invested in, excited about, and absolutely in love with this sport, and making sure that our extended family has a place for everyone who leaves their heart on the ice every time they skate.