What Are the Best Ice Conditions for Figure Skating?

Written By: Riedell | February 27, 2024

The quality of ice plays a pivotal role in the world of figure skating. It affects everything from the skater’s performance to their ability to perform jumps and spins safely. Optimal ice conditions will elevate a routine, allowing athletes to glide effortlessly and execute their maneuvers with precision. We’re going to help you understand what constitutes bad ice skating, rough ice skating, and what constitutes the best ice conditions for figure skating. Once skaters have a firm grasp on what to watch out for and how to lessen the impacts of bad or rough ice, they’ll be well-equipped to showcase their skills to the fullest while remaining safe and navigating any ice-related challenges that come their way.

What Is Bad Ice?

Figure skating is a unique sport. Skaters ask for a lot of the ice! They need an even, smooth surface for gliding, ice that’s soft enough to handle the dig of a toe pick before jumps, and ice that’s strong enough to withstand hundreds (if not a thousand!) pounds of pressure from the impact of landings. Working with ideal ice conditions is essential for optimum safety and performance of skaters, but that doesn’t always happen.

Sometimes, athletes might vent to friends or family that their rink was set up for bad ice skating. Those unfamiliar with the intricacies of this sport might think this is merely an excuse for an off day at practice, but there is science behind it.

Bad ice typically refers to ice that’s too cold or warm, which causes it to be too hard or soft. Different ice sports have different ideals for temperature, thickness, and surface tension. Figure skating ice is unique because it’s the warmest and softest of all Olympic ice surfaces.

The ideal temperature for figure skating ice is around 24 to 26 degrees F, whereas ice hockey ice needs to be closer to 17 to 23 degrees F. When the ice is too cold (typically below 20 degrees F), figure skaters will encounter several challenges due to how hard and brittle the ice becomes. Of course, if the ice is too warm, figure skaters face equally concerning challenges due to a lack of stability and firmness.

What Is Rough Ice?

Unlike bad ice, rough ice skating conditions aren’t caused by less-than-ideal temperatures. When skaters talk about the challenges of performing or practicing on rough ice, they’re often referring to ice that has been well-used and hasn’t yet been reset to its ordinarily smooth and pristine surface.

Skating on rough ice forces skaters to navigate worn ice filled with chips and grooves left behind by other skaters. This can make even the simplest twizzles and footwork difficult to perform gracefully. 

Will Rough Ice Damage My Blades?

One of the downsides of skating on rough ice is the additional wear and tear your blades will experience. Think of it as if you were wearing dress shoes. Those shoes will stay in better condition for longer if you only wear them indoors on smooth, even surfaces. Deciding to hike a mountain trail in dress shoes will wear them down much more quickly.

The idea is the same with rough ice skating conditions. Your blades will become duller faster than if you were skating under ideal conditions, and they may become nicked depending on how rough the ice is and what moves you’re trying to perform. 

The Impact of Poor Ice Conditions

The biggest impact of bad ice skating conditions, whether you’re skating on bad ice or rough ice, is the inability to perform movements as effortlessly and gracefully as you normally would. Skating on rough ice will make it more difficult for skaters to glide seamlessly, perform intricate footwork, and land jumps. 

Bad ice presents its own set of challenges. When the ice is too warm and soft, blade edges will cut too deep into the ice surface, which causes skaters to feel sluggish, even when using quality skates. Hard ice caused by too cold of a temperature will prevent the edges from cutting into the ice, reducing a skater’s power. Hard ice can also create a safety hazard by causing larger chunks of ice to be chipped out when skaters pick into the ice for toe jumps.

Minimizing the Impact

Athletes have been finding ways to manage less than optimal conditions for ages when they’re dedicated and passionate about their sport. Take marathon runners, for example. They’re constantly adapting their footwork to changing terrain throughout their run and finding ways to maximize their speed while maintaining their safety and pace, even as the ground goes from smooth pavement to dirt paths.

Figure skaters can manage skating on rough ice by keeping a few simple tips in mind:

  • Review the Surface: Before going on the ice, skaters should survey the surface. Look for grooves, nicks, and other particularly rough spots. Keep those spots in mind as areas to avoid.
  • Adapt Training Routine: Encountering rough ice during practice gives skaters the opportunity to adapt their routine to the conditions. Focus on getting a feel for skating on the imperfect surface, so you have a framework for how to deal with it if you encounter rough ice during competitions.
  • Regular Blade Maintenance: All skaters should get in the routine of sharpening and inspecting their blades regularly. Doing so will help mitigate the dulling effects of rough ice and keep your blades in optimum condition, which reduces the risk of damaging them.
  • Invest in Quality Skates: Quality skates will be able to withstand tougher conditions. While no blades are immune to damage, high quality materials will offer better resilience against the wear and tear caused by rough ice.
  • Speak with Your Coach: When skaters notice bad ice before practice or a competition, they should speak with their coach. Your coach may advise you to alter your blade radius of hollow, which determines how sharp the edges are and affects how much the edges grip the ice. This can help skaters adjust to ice that’s too soft or too hard.

Best Ice Conditions for Figure Skating

Figure skating ice needs to be just the right temperature and smoothness to achieve ideal conditions. The ice should be around 24-26 degrees F, and ideally, it should never go above 28 degrees F. This temperature range is ideal for the type of footwork and impacts that figure skating ice needs to support. Ideally, figure skaters should skate on recently maintained ice that’s smooth and free of any impeding nicks or grooves. 

Navigate the Ice with Riedell

Whether you’re looking for a pair of skates to support your start into the world of figure skating or a custom pair that’s designed to see you through many seasons, Riedell Ice is here to help. We have a variety of skates to choose from for athletes of all levels. Our skates are made with high quality materials and will offer lasting support even when encountering rough or bad ice.