Monday, October 12, 2009

Figure Skate Boots and Blades: Not the Place to Skimp


I’m thrifty, even cheap, but I don’t resort to home dentistry. Sure, I brush my teeth, and I even floss sometimes, but I leave the root canals and fillings to my dentist. My teeth’s good health is important to me: I don’t want rotten, misshapen teeth. I want to chew food without pain and I don’t know the first thing about giving myself Novocain. That’s why I see a professional.

I’m the same way with figure skates. I just don’t know how to fit them on my own; although, I would love a shot of Novocain when it comes to paying for them.

Let’s say, for instance, a person orders her daughter’s figure skating boots and blades online. Being a practical soul, she orders the figure skating boots one size larger for her daughter because the kid is still growing. Practical Mom wants the boot to fit her skater in a year. Practical Mom also bought a boot that’s a pretty high level because she expects her skater to advance quickly. She buys the figure skating blade online and mounts it herself at home. Then she takes the new skates to a local sporting goods store where they sharpen recreational blades.

Practical Mom wants to save money, but she’s doing it in the wrong way. Let’s see where she went wrong and how to make it right.

Ordering figure skating boots online. Sure, you can save money and order boots online, but you have to be cautious. You have to make sure that the foot measurements and foot tracings are done properly – many folks get it wrong. If you order your boots online, you don’t have the benefit of trying on several pairs from different manufacturers. You don’t know that one manufacturer’s boot has a narrow heel or that another has a wider toe box. However, ordering boots online can save you money, especially if the skater has stopped growing. In that case, order the same boot; it’s pretty simple.

How to make it right: Unless you’re very experienced with skate fittings, visit a reputable figure skate dealer for a good fit. If you must order online, call the place you’re ordering from and ask them to walk you through the measurement and foot tracing process. See if they can recommend a certain boot for you based on the measurements.


Ordering a boot that’s too big. Practical Mom knows her kid’s growing, but what she doesn’t know is that the sides of the figure skating boot are reinforced at points that correspond to a skater’s foot size. If a skater is too small for the boot, the non-reinforced areas will take the impact. Renee from Rainbo Sports said that this kind of wear actually makes the boot break down, or crease, faster than a boot that fits well. Practical Mom thinks she’s smart to order a size too big, but really, she’ll be buying new boots sooner.

Boots that are too big also cause foot problems, Renee said. A skater might compensate for the boot’s size by gripping the sole with her toes, which causes foot pain. Her heel might slip in the back and cause a bump on the heel. She could develop painful calluses, too.

How to make it right: Buy the boots that fit your skater’s feet. You can maybe go up a half size, but don’t go up any further than that. Remember that boot sizes don’t correspond to shoe sizes and every figure skating boot manufacturer has a different size chart. You must measure.


Ordering a figure skating boot that’s too advanced. Practical Mom dreams of doubles and thinks that the heavier the boot, the better her skater will perform. This is a lousy idea. Your skater will skate like she’s in cement shoes because the boot’s too tough for her. If you want your skater to quit, buy a boot that’s way too stiff.

How to make it right: Your skater needs to build up her legs and her feet in order to tolerate an advanced boot, Renee said. You’re better off increasing the boot incrementally than jumping from the rental skates your skater used in Basic 4 to a skate that kids doing triples require.


Skipping the heat molding step. I think Practical Mom skipped this step because she doesn’t have a convection oven at home. Few people do. You can’t heat mold a figure skating boot in a conventional oven, so don’t even try it. Heat molding figure skating boots is a fabulous thing. It molds the boot to the skater’s foot and smoothes the break-in process for the skater. Heat molding reduces painful blisters, rubbing, and even scars.

How to make it right: If you have ordered your boots online, take them (and your skater) to a skate shop. Dress your skater in her skate socks, too. Request that the shop heat mold the boot. They’ll probably charge you for it, but it’s worth it.


Mounting the figure skating blade herself. You’d think that mounting a figure skate blade to a boot is as simple as drawing a straight line down the center and screwing the blade down on top of the line. However, even a small variance in the mounting can make holding edges and spins difficult for your skater. If you try to adjust the mounting, you’ll weaken the sole and invite water damage. Better to get it right the first time.

How to make it right: Again, if you’ve ordered the boots online, take them into a reputable dealer for the mounting. Yeah, they’re going to charge you, but you’ll save your skater a lot of frustration in the long run and have a more solid boot.


Inexpert figure skate blade sharpening. Blades are pricey and have only so much life in them. An inexpert sharpening can ruin a blade by taking off way too much metal or rounding the blade à la hockey skates. Blades cost $150 on the cheap end and $500+ on the expensive end. For my money, I want the most life out of that bugger.

How to make it right: Take that blade to a reputable skate sharpener. I know – it’s hard to know who sharpens correctly. Ask around. People will tell you. (Someday I’ll write a post about how to know if a sharpening is good or not. Until then, ask around.) I drive Ice Girl’s skates to a shop 90 minutes away because I know that Renee at Rainbo Sports sharpens well. You know I’m cheap, but I’m also not willing to risk my daughter’s Vision blade on just anyone. That’s $500, people. O.K. I bought it used, but still. I’m not going to pay for the local used sporting goods store or hockey shop to ruin it.


The bottom line: scrimping on skates isn’t really saving you much. Look. I want to save money as much as the next person. Perhaps more than the next person: I adore bargains. But, I save money elsewhere: I sew dresses (you can buy them online), I make Ice Girl practice moves on cheap, empty public sessions, and I bought used blades (with Renee’s approval).

Update: From reader Anonymous: The recommendation charts are somewhat helpful, but as a skate tech who works with skaters for a living, I can tell you the charts are not always 100% on the money. The charts don't usually take into account the skaters body size, weight, hours per week he/she skates, how he/she breaks down boots, etc. I have customers who are 65 lbs. and working on Double Axels and the boot I recommend for them is not going to be the same as the boot for a 150 lb. man working on the same jump. Also, there is a major difference between a skater who is a "test" skater at, say, the Intermediate level, and an Intermediate lady who qualifies for Junior Nationals. So I always look at the "whole picture", not just the chart.

Update: From reader Helicopter Mom: Take the coach's advice too. They have WAY more knowledge about all kinds of skates than the other moms at the rink.

Update: From reader Ethelapple: Heat molding is great -- and so is "bumping out" the boot to get a little extra time before having to buy that next pair!

Update: From reader Anonymous: In general, I have found that an excellent pro-shop may have better boot and blade fit information than the coach.

What do you think? Let me know if you think I’m way off base with this one. Better yet, let me know if there’s a way to save money on figure skates that I don’t know about. Have a horror story? Share that, too!

20 comments:

Helicopter Mom said...

Excellent post as always! The only thing I would add is that it is important not to buy a boot that's LESS advanced than your skater needs either. The boot will break down before your child even outgrows it!! Reidell has boot recommendations on their website so you can get an idea what boots you might want to look at (and how much you might have to pay!) before you go to your local reputable skate shop. I haven't found a recommendation list like that for any other brands but usually the skate shop can show me the equivalent boot in another brand to compare. Take the coach's advice too. They have WAY more knowledge about all kinds of skates than the other moms at the rink. And I highly recommend the heat molding! My daughter just got her new skates last week and heat molding made all the difference!

Ethelapple said...

Heat molding is great -- and so is "bumping out" the boot to get a little extra time before having to buy that next pair!
You always have great and informative posts! I recommend this blog to every other ice skating mom I know. :D

Anonymous said...

The recommendation charts are somewhat helpful, but as a skate tech who works with skaters for a living, I can tell you the charts are not always 100% on the money. The charts don't usually take into account the skaters body size, weight, hours per week he/she skates, how he/she breaks down boots, etc. I have customers who are 65 lbs. and working on Double Axels and the boot I recommend for them is not going to be the same as the boot for a 150 lb. man working on the same jump. Also, there is a major difference between a skater who is a "test" skater at, say, the Intermediate level, and an Intermediate lady who qualifies for Junior Nationals. So I always look at the "whole picture", not just the chart.

Ice Mom said...

Thanks, guys! Your comments are terrific!

Anonymous said...

All Excellent advice. It took me years to realize that my daughter had those "cement shoe" boots (bought on the advice of a misinformed professional). As far as I am concerned, those are years of wasted lessons. The cost of lessons far outweighs the cost of equipment.
In general, I have found that an excellent pro-shop may have better boot and blade fit information than the coach. However, there are still differences of opinion on the "best" choice, due to all the variables involved. It's important to be as informed as you can. Your blog helps with that.

Elisabeth said...

I think you are right on base. You have admitted yourself that you just don't know how to do this stuff so better to leave it to a professional.

For me, personally, I stuck with the same boot brand and the same blade from the time I got my first real pair of skates (i.e. not $30 plastic ones from wal-mart).

I knew when I needed to go up in size, etc. My feet have been done growing for years now and when I start back skating, I know the exact boot and size I need though that could change as I need to lose some weight for that. In that case, I will have them professionally fitted again.

I have mounted my own blades before and it worked just fine but it is not something I could ever recommend. There was enough swearing coming from my mouth that day to put South Park to shame. It was tough and is very precise but I mounted them perfectly. Luckily, they were from an older pair so I didn't have to worry about sharpening them.

Bottom line, when in doubt, don't take a chance, trust the professionals.

Anonymous said...

I will start with four words: blade sharpening horror story. I took my daughter's skates to the pro shop a month before her competition to get the blades sharpened. I got them back 2 days later, handed them to my daughter and thought that was that. She didn't skate well that practice. Her coach and I chalked it up to newly sharpened blades. My daughter's next practice was worse; she kept hitting her toe pick in her scratch spin. It was really weird. Her coach and I chalked it up to nerves/anxiety about her big competition in 3 weeks. Two and a half weeks before the competition, her skating is still all over the place. I took her skates off and was drying the blade when I noticed the rocker looked funny. I grabbed my daughter's coach and she confirmed my worst fear; the "pro" in the pro shop ground off the rocker portion on both of my daughter's blades. No wonder she couldn't skate! We ended up having to buy brand new skates and boots because of course the pro shop didn't sell replacement blades. My daughter's coach gave us the name of a personal friend of hers that she trusts to mounth her blades and sharpen them. He was an angel and got them done that night for us. The only problem was that my daughter only had 2.5 weeks to break in new boots. She did really well, and after getting her confidence back, she won first place in her event. I have not, nor will I ever, go back to the "pro shop" at the rink to get my daughters skates serviced. I learned the hard way.

Cynthia said...

Finding a good technician to sharpen your blades is so important. Luckily I have one locally.

I just found your blog surfing the web on figure skating. I have bookmarked you to share with my fellow board members in our local figure skating club.

Thanks for supporting figure skating moms everywhere.

Jillybean said...

Here's my horror story.
We ordered my first pair of "real" skates through a local seasonal rink because their prices were less than what it would have cost to get them through our rink. I just told the manager which boots and blades I wanted and he ordered them for me.
We thought that if we got the strongest boots we could that they might last longer, and they did. I learned my axel through double flip in those skates, they lasted several years.
They also gave me some really painful bone spurs. I couldn't do loop jumps or sit spins without being in pain. I also had this thing happen where the arches in my feet would get a cramp in them and it wouldn't stop until I took my skate off and rubbed my foot.
When the problems became unbearable, I finally went to the doctor. After several months of visits where he gave me cortizone shots in my heel (which only helped temporarily) the doctor said that my only option was surgery and that I would need to get custom made skates afterward so that the problem wouldn't return.
For some reason we decided to skip the surgery and go straight to the custom boots. Miraculously, all of my foot problems cleared up! My bone spurs shrank and I never again had a cramp in my foot.
Apparently my boots were much too strong for my skating level and they didn't fit properly. My new boots actually turned out to be almost a size smaller than my old ones.
It's worth it to pay a little more and have boots fit by a trained professional.
As far as the mounting of blades, on of my coaches would have us get a temporary mounting with just screws in the slots in the blade. He would then have us glide in a straight line, and then he would adjust the placement of the blade until we felt they were in the right place, then we would take them back to be permanently waterproofed and mounted.
Don't skimp on the waterproofing either. I had a friend who didn't bother to seal the leather on his soles. The snow/water seeped into the leather that over time it loosened it enough around the screws that once when he toed in for a jump his blade fell off. (and he had a pretty nifty fall too)
I'm really lucky because my brother is a Harlick representative and is really good at fitting boots and knowing which boot and blade are appropriate for each level. He is also trained in shoe repair and can replace hooks, stretch boots, and rebuild them. He also waterproof our boots, mounts and sharpens our skates and and he can leap tall buildings in a single bound.......

You are so right, skates are not an area in which to skimp.

danielmcvicar said...

Found you today, you were suggested by google reader. your first post opened with a comment about not skimping on the dentist.
My fiance is a dentist, skating judge and former competitive skater here in Italy.
you got off to the right start with me. Great blog, keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Hello!
I would appreciate some advice from you experienced moms and experts. I have a 6 year old daughter who skates 5-6 times a week. She does the single jumps.She skates in Riedell bronze medallion. She has now outgrown her skates. I don`t want to buy "cement" boots, but good boots. Do you have any opinions on how the boot Riedell 910 LS and 875 TS would do. The 910 LS seems comfortable with soft back collar. Is the 875 TS to stiff? Any other Riedell recommendations(Riedell has a great fit on her narrow foot). Thank you for any opinion on the issue! Greetings from Sweden

Ice Mom said...

Hey, Anony from Sweden.

I'd ask your daughter's coach or your local pro shop for advice. As another comment said, the size charts don't take into account the skater's size and level. As for me, I couldn't tell you anything about those boots beyond the fact that your wallet's going to take a beating!

Good luck!

Ice Mom

Scandinavianice said...

Thank you ice-mom! Great blog! Lots of great information to discover!
Greetngs from Sweden

Anonymous said...

Hi anony from Sweden,

I was having a similar dilemma with the Riedell. I was considering the 1310 LS and 910 LS. The pro shop where I went to get fitted was able to provide excellent advice on which boot I should choose (and it ended up being neither - I ended up with the 435 TS). So, I agree with IceMom that a good pro shop will be your best bet for figuring out which boot is right for your daughter.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, my message was a reply to the anony asking about boots, not the anony from Sweden.

Xan said...

Jimmie Santee at the Professional Skaters Assn has some interesting statistics on boots and blades as well in last month's PSA magazine: http://skatepsa.blogspot.com/2009/10/twisted-metal.html

SooBie said...

I've been searching on the internet for a certified skate technician or professional to advise us on new boots with little luck. We have a gentleman who visits our rink monthly and is excellent, but seems to bring a very limited supply of skates due to the nature of traveling. Is there a website or resource that lists professionals by geographic location? Does anyone know of any formal training courses offered for this?
Thanks :) PS: really enjoy your blog!

Ice Mom said...

Hi, SooBie.

I'll forward your message on to my favorite skate tech and see what she has to say.

Check back here for an answer.

Ice Mom

Rye said...

Hi. I think the best way to sharpen boot blade is to look for the best technicians in town.

poorer but wiser said...

As a new skater I went to the best (and only) experienced figure skate fitter in my area. He was highly recommended by many skaters. Unfortunately, he talked me into buying a boot that was too narrow and a little too short because it's what he had in stock, and he thought stretching and heat molding would make up the difference. I didn't know any better, but I should have listened to my gut and said no way to those skates. All the molding and stretching didn't really help, and I ended up with boots that hurt terribly AND broke down in record time because they had to be manipulated so much. It is no accident that he has such a following and he is obviously a good fitter, but for some reason his measurements didn't accurately reflect the size and shape of my feet, and the way they fit in the skates.

Bottom line: sometimes even an experienced pro can screw up. Do as much homework as you can before hand, read reviews from other skaters using various boots and try to be as educated a consumer as you can possibly be. And don't let the fitter strong-arm you into buying something you're not comfortable with ... at the very least, before you hand over your money, confirm that the skates can be exchanged (within a reasonable time period to allow for genuine break-in issues), free of charge, if they don't fit properly.