Half of my skating friends skate in freestyle sessions (FS) and the other half in general public sessions. Throughout the years, I've gravitated towards taking lessons and practicing on public sessions, which definitely has its ups and downsides. The upside is that I view skating as a privilege, so I always feel fortunate when I'm on the ice, whether it's at a public or freestyle session. The downside is that in public sessions, well, the public is invited, so you'll find regular folk, figure skaters, hockey skaters, sometimes speed skaters (not usually though), and everyone else in between sharing the ice. So it's sometimes difficult to have a meaningful lesson or practice at a public session. Plus, rink guards usually spot you in a corner practicing something and direct you to the middle of the ice, which is coned off, where you'll find everyone else trying to practice and take lessons. It's frustrating sometimes, but hey, I don't have Olympic aspirations so I'll live.
Here are the pros and cons for you to weigh, and some tips I've gotten along the way, when deciding which session is right for you:
- Most important, and this is the decision point for a lot of people, FS sessions are expensive. I live in Manhattan and Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers is the only indoor Manhattan rink in NYC, so whatever they charge is what we'll pay. Sky Rink FS sessions can either be 50 or 80 minutes and cost $23 or $29, respectively (slightly more during weekends). Isn't that insane? 50 minutes goes by fast when it takes 10 minutes for me to warm up! Hard core folks skate two sessions or more I've noticed. You're never more aware of every minute that goes by until you've skated a FS session -- you start figuring out how much each minute costs ($.46 for a 50 minute session by the way). At the public session, you can skate for four hours for $12.50!
- Related to the above brings me to this tip: Try not to "disturb" other skaters at a FS session. I think the combination of the relatively short time to skate and the money involved makes people more focused and I've rarely seen conversations that last more than 20 seconds between skaters at a FS session. Off the ice, it could be a chat-fest because one thing about us adult skaters in particular -- we're pretty supportive of each other.
- Visually, you'll notice immediately that FS session ice is not coned off in the middle. This allows for skaters to utilize the entire ice, which is very important especially if they are practicing programs. It's also good for beginners to practice crossovers on the other side, which they don't get enough of at a public session. Practice spins are done in the middle of the ice, there are Lutz corners that skaters adhere to, and you learn not to "hang out" on the ice unless you're working on something. Contrast with public sessions where the middle (you know the rest) is for "lessons and figure skating." So are you testing? Interested in competitions? If so, better get used to skating in FS sessions. Here are some general "rules" to follow at a FS session.
- There's a limit to how many people can skate in a FS session (at Sky Rink it's 30) so you're guaranteed practice space. Wait, I take that back. If you haven't learned to skate at a FS session, five people can seem too many. Years ago, before I knew any better, I was at a FS session where there was an ice dancing couple and a few singles skaters and the speed that they were skating at was so intimidating that I got off the ice. I found myself skating defensively and that's never a good feeling.
- So related to the above point, before skating an actual FS session, observe a few that you may be interested in skating in first. You'd be surprised at the different vibe and energy that different sessions bring. Years ago, I went to the rink to observe a 6:30-7:50 a.m. FS session and there were a lot of adults skating and taking lessons before they went to work, so they were all business and skated with an intensity that wasn't me, especially at 6:30 in the morning. I chose to do the 8- 8:50 a.m. and was able to switch my work hours to a later time.
- There are no rental skates allowed on FS sessions. Also, only figure skaters are allowed on FS sessions. No bad hockey people to muck up our ice. :)
- There are more sessions to choose from for FS sessions. There is more flexibility to skate FS sessions if you don't value sleep. Sky Rink begins their FS sessions at 4:30 a.m. and believe me, there are a lot of skaters on the ice.
- Some coaches only teach in FS sessions because it's more productive for them as well as for their students. If you really like a certain coach, be aware of any restrictions they may place on lessons - it could get quite expensive, with paying for the ice time and for the lesson time.
- Lastly, a tip from a coach friend who's been teaching for over 30 years: If a skater at a FS session seems particularly aggressive or mean or what have you, definitely approach them off the ice and compliment their skating. It goes a long way towards the next FS session where you will encounter them again.
So what's the bottom line for you? I'm guessing a combination of both -- A few public sessions mixed in with a few FS sessions. Happy skating!