Fit in Aarhus: Booted, on ice

It’s a winter hobby for some, and a professional venture for others. Whichever way, ice skating is a playful way to exercise and experience a great sense of freedom. 

By Franziska Bauer and Kim L. Schönrock

Figure skater Bettina Zbinden showing journalist Kim Schönrock the ropes. Photo: Nehal El-Sherif

The air inside the packed Aarhus Skøjtehal, the city’s best indoor ice skating facility, is cold when we arrive. Excited children are yelling, and groups of teens are chatting with one another. A few parents are struggling to keep their balance on the rink. There are people of all ages, sizes, abilities. Most of them are skating in a steady, circular manner. However, one of them, a young woman, is also zig-zagging, jumping, and dancing. Her movements are practiced. Effortless. The woman, Bettina Zbinden, is a professional synchronised figure skater from Switzerland. She started figure skating at the age of seven, in Switzerland, and usually skates with her team, Cool Dreams. Last year Cool Dreams successfully participated in the Ice Skating World Championships in Courmayeur, northern Italy.

The situation is much different in Aarhus, where the sport is not as popular as it is in Switzerland. There is no synchronized figure ice skating team in Aarhus, or in Denmark. Bettina, who moved here last September, now mainly skates on her own, sharing the ice with hobby skaters. “In the autumn Skøjtehal was nearly empty, most of the time. I basically had the ice to myself. It became increasingly crowded after New Year. I now have to be really careful when I’m going fast or practicing figures,” she explains. According to Gitte Jensen, a cashier at the facility, the season runs from October until April. “It gets busy only from January onwards when 1,500 visitors come on a regular weekend,” Gitte says.

It is freedom. Elegance. Team spirit. A part of my life.

16 times more fun

Bettina is happy to have access to the ice hall; the master student cannot imagine a life without skating. However, the training in Aarhus is barely comparable to the one she follows at home.

Synchronised ice skating is a demanding sport in many respects. A good sense of balance is essential, as are strength and a generally good level of cardio fitness. “It’s a combination of talent, practice, and will,” she says, explaining how to master the sport. In addition to the fitness demand, ice skating involves a lot of theories. Certain elements of the sport, like skating different figures, require a good sense of physics to execute safely.

Being a professional requires training on-ice and off-ice. A session could lasts around two-and-a-half hours. Cool Dreams, for example, would start their regular training with 40 minutes of stretching, running, going through the choreography, and elements that require close collaboration of the skaters, like lifting figures, before the actual ice skating starts. “It can happen that you practice a circle 16 times for an hour, until it’s perfect. Or you may go through the whole programme several times, which is equally exhausting.”

According to Bettina, the training also changes according to the season. In the summer, she says, the focus is on cardio and strength training only. In the winter, cardio and strength are complemented by ballet and balance training. The individual training schedule also includes step training and running on the ice. Bettina prefers training sessions with her 15 fellow skaters to training solo. “Skating with my teammates is simply 16 times more fun.”

Another component of skating is outward appearance, looks. “Everything has to be perfect when you go on the ice as a team. Cool Dreams spends a lot of time on hair and makeup before a competition,” explains Bettina.

Composition

Theoretically a team may admit up to seven male members. Purely male teams are not allowed. The sport also struggles finding active male supporters in general. Pia Fagerlund Vøgg, the Aarhus Skøjtehal treasurer observes, “Out of 113 members that Aarhus Skøjteklub has right now, only 5 or 6 are male.“

It’s all about letting loose. Photo credit: Nehal El-Sherif

Jensen sees people of almost every age and level of skill coming to the ice rink. Pia, like Bettina, also started skating as a young child and participated in competitions on a national level. She still skates, but now the ice princesses are her three daughters, all of whom are avid skaters for Aarhus Skøjteklub.

One session on the ice rink costs DKK 45. The cost is similar for hiring skating boots. Admission for children under four years is free.

The hall is open to the public four days a week, plus every first Friday of the month, when there is an ice disco event. The cashier designates this event as by far the most popular point in time for visitors. The last time she sold tickets to around 600 people coming for this evening alone.

Skating with my teammates is simply 16 times more fun.

Worthy investment

The sport lacks prominence in Aarhus for two main reasons, according to Pia: awareness about the sport, and the cost. She states that both semi-professionals and professionals need proper training shoes, which may cost anything between DKK 7, 500 and 11,000. The cost for one training session, Bettina estimates, ranges between DKK 30,000 and DKK 37,000. This takes care of associated costs like: the ice rent, the coach, travelling, and costumes. Skaters also need warm clothing inside the ice rinks.

Despite these challenges, skating continues to hook people onto the ice. This is something Bettina understands well. Ice skating is more than just a sport for her. “It is freedom. Elegance. Team spirit. A part of my life.”

All you have to do now is lace up, and hit the ice rink.

*This is the third in a series of fitness and sport-focused articles under the Fit in Aarhus banner. Readers of this article also enjoyed the feature on cycling.

Franziska Bauer holds a BA in Social and Cultural Anthropology as well as Comparative Literature Studies. She’s a freelance journalist and a sports enthusiast. Kim Schönrock is a German journalist. She holds BA in Sports-Management and Communication. Both are Student Life contributors.