October 9, 2012

What Are Figure Skates Anyway? The Anatomy Of Boots

This post may seem somewhat basic to the seasoned skater or skating-person (coach, parents, siblings, fan, the list goes on!), but I hope it will be useful to beginners starting out, or people who simply want to know more about figure skates. Here I'm going to introduce figure skates, also known as skating boots, or simply boots, and have a look at the different parts that make them up, and then talk a little about skate types, and brands.

Anatomy of a Skate
Figure skates, ice skates, boots, they have many a name. For the purposes of this post, from now on in we'll be calling them boots, but know all these terms are synonymous.
Boots are pretty much just that: a boot into which your feet fit and are supported through a series of fastenings and laces, which feature a sole, often made of wood and/or leather. This sole has a raised heel at the back of the boot.
Boots classically come in black for men, and white for women, but beige boots also exist and are favoured by show skaters who enjoy the optical illusion beige boots offer: lengthening of the leg, because the boot is of the same shade as their legs. Other colours exist too, such as pink and mint green, but the practicality of these colours is questionable, especially if the skater intends on competing.

The boot into which the feet are placed are most often made of leather, but can also be made of man-made fibres. It is often harder to tell when these man-made fibre boots are coming to the end of their lives, that is, no longer offering the crucial ankle support skaters need in order to execute moves safely (the phenomenon of boots become tired and old, and no longer capable of offering correct support to the wearer, is termed “breaking down”).

The insides of boots are padded to offer comfort to the skater, and may have varying degrees and different types of padding, depending on boot brand and model. Some brands even offer customisable padding options, such as extra ankle padding, or sheepskin insoles for added warmth.

The boot features a mobile tongue which lies to the front of the boot and will get strapped down to the front of the foot and ankle under the pressure of the laces. Laces are fed through holes in the boot material up to the ankle level on the skaters foot, and then are attached by hand each time the boots are put on, by looping the laces around hooks on the upper part of the boot. This allows the skater to more-or-less stiffly lace their boots up, depending on the amount of support they desire.

The blade is attached onto the boot's heel, by a series of screws which are driven into the boot by a professional who will mount the blades at the correct angle (blades mounted with even micro variations in positioning can cause skaters the inability to execute simple straight lines, and will need to be re-mounted. This is all part of the process of getting new boots). Blades are made of stainless steel, but some are now offered coloured, and the option of dipping the blades in gold for an additional fee is a popular one.

So What Type Of Boots Are There Anyway?
Many different types of skates exist, including hockey skates, and speed skating boots, but for the purposes of this post we are concentrating on figure skating boots.

The main two types of figure skate are those designed for singles and pairs skating, and those designed for ice dancing. The former feature high ankles for maximal support during jumping, and the blades will also feature varying degrees of toe-pick (the jaggy part of the blade at the front), depending on the level of the skater (as the skater's skill level grows, larger toe picks are needed in order to carry out more difficult jumps, jumping spins, and other high-level moves).

Ice dance boots have a crucial feature which allows ice dancers to achieve the beautiful lines they require through elongating their legs and pointing their feet: cut away backs on their boots. Ice dance boots feature a dip in the structure on the back of the ankle, which allows for hyper-extended feet and ballet-esque lines to be achieved. Ice dance blades will also have minimal toe picks, as no jumping in involved in this discipline. Dance blades are also shorter at the back to allow for closer crossing-over, footwork, and avoidance of blade entanglement between partners.

A large variety of brands exist on the skate boot market, and many skaters are loyal to one brand through all, or at least most, of their skating careers. However, it can take some moving from brand to brand during your early skating life to find your ultimate boot experience. I skated with both Risport and Wifa boots before finding the brand that are perfect for my feet and my needs: Graf Dance. It took me almost 10 years to find them, but boy am I glad I did! Unfortunately there is no magic recipe for finding the perfect boot for you, although following advice from people in the know (your coach, professional skating shop attendants) will help you find the correct type of boot for your needs (boots come in varying strengths and are more-or-less adapted to your usage depending on your skill set on the ice, and the types of moves you'll be executing).

Many brands have skating-star endorsements, and plenty of folks at your rink will give you their opinion on what the best types of skate boot are, but ultimately the choice needs to be yours, based on your needs and your comfort.

Beware of buying second-hand boots. Although they can be financially advantageous, they will already have taken on the shape of the foot of the previous wearer (as the leather softens, it moulds to the shape of the foot which is wearing it continuously), which may ultimately make them uncomfortable for their new owner: you!

Hopefully by now you have a better idea of what skates are all about, and what they are made of. If you're interested in skating boots as a subject make sure you check out my related boots on such subjects as breaking them into your feet, and how to keep them looking lovely!

Until next time, keep on skatin'!

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1 comment

  1. This post was really informative. The only thing I don't like about high quality ice skates, though, is that they're so expensive!

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