Buying The Perfect Skates
Updated: Jan 14
It's one of the most important investments you'll make into your (or your child's) skating career. So don't go into it blind.
Buying skates is a daunting process. Trust me. It took me 3 years to even muster the energy to write this dumb article. But I love my students. I get asked about it constantly, and I have always needed a spot I can refer my students to so I don't have to give them an entire lecture every time. Let's just begin.
Why is having your own skates important?
I tell every single person I teach that if they plan to skate for more than 2 months, they need to go out and get a basic pair of skates. I don't care if you strap kitchen knives to your shoes (under no circumstances should any human being ever do that- I am using sarcasm here, people) anything is better than rental skates. Rental skates are horrendous for a number of reasons, including the fact that (1) most rinks rarely disinfect their skates between skaters, (2) they get sharpened blades once a year if they're lucky, and (3) the ankles are already completely broken down from people skating in them incorrectly. I always tell my students that if I tried to do anything in rental skates, I wouldn't be able to. If you can skate in rental skates, you can do anything.
First Things First
Before you head to your nearest skate shop or open up that first browser, there are a few basic things you should know:
People that know how to measure for skates are few and far in between. I used to drive 2 hours to this rink that had a good skate guy whenever I needed a new pair. It was worth it. Any high schooler can have you stand on a foot measure and tell you what you are going to need. And realistically speaking, if you're reading this article, you aren't doing triples yet, so you aren't going to need the perfect skate, you just need something that will suffice. But do not trust every place that sells skates. I will say that usually, every skate shop does have one expert- but you have to work with that expert to get a proper fitting.
You can shop around. Most people think that they have to buy skates from the first place they go. In reality, not all skate shops sell every kind of skate. Every person has their own opinion on what "the best" skates are. You are not tied to any shop. You can talk to different places about their opinions, get fitted a second time, and look at multiple retailers before you settle. You can even shop online, as long as you find a place with a good return policy so you can try the skates on and return them if they don't fit. Or you can try an online site like Houston Skate and Sports Orthotics Center who will do an online fitting with you.
There are 4 questions you need to answer before you can begin this process:
Is the skater's foot going to continue to grow? (Even adults have their feet grow from time to time)
What level is the skater right now? (You don't need a triple lutz blade for someone doing a waltz jump)
Between now and when the skater needs a new pair of skates, what level are they hoping to reach?
Are there any special needs the skater has for their feet? (i.e. high arches, flat feet, need to have room for something their orthopedist said, etc.)
There are many different ways that people evaluate skating level. This is my general take. I split skaters up into 5 simple ISI-based levels for the sake of purchasing skates:
Recreational skaters are those just learning how to skate to judge their interest in it, find a new hobby, or just get better for next year's winter ice rinks. I group Pre-Alpha skaters and Tots (all levels) into this category.
Instructional Skaters are those who have decided to take skating more seriously. They have begun private lessons or are continuing to take group classes and work on edges and other technical skills. I include everyone from ISI levels Alpha through Gamma in this category.
Beginning Freestyle skaters are in ISI Freestyles 1 through 4. They are learning single jumps, working on spins, and need a skate that will be able to take on those stressors.
Intermediate Freestyle skaters are doing single axels and starting to work on doubles, but not at the level of a double axel yet. I consider this ISI Freestyle levels 5 through 8.
Advanced Freestyle is what I would consider the level where skaters are doing double axels and starting to work on triples. From this level, skaters should be in ISI Freestyle levels 9 and 10, and transitioning to USFSA to be in a more competitive environment.
While skates may seem overwhelmingly expensive, consider this: your skate determines everything. But, like I said at the beginning, we don't want to go into this blind. You should know roughly how much you are going to be spending on a pair of skates, so that you can better decide which skates to buy.
Recreational (ISI Levels Tot 1-4, Pre-Alpha)
Instructional (ISI Levels Alpha-Gamma)
Beginning Freestyle (ISI Freestyle Levels 1-4)
Intermediate Freestyle (ISI Freestyle 5-8)
$400-600 (boots only)
Advanced Freestyle (ISI Freestyle 9-10)
$600 and up (boots only)
Also- just because you have the money (I'm looking at you, adults) does not mean that you should buy a more advanced skate. The more advanced a skate gets, the stiffer the boot will be. Chances are, you probably won't ever break those skates in, and you'll just spend all of your time being uncomfortable if not miserable. Nobody looks at what model of skates you have. Do yourself a favor and buy the right skate.
There are two blogs I found during my research that summed up everything else that I would say brilliantly. I'm not one to reinvent the wheel, so click on over to HOL Figure Skating and Kinzie's Closet. Read through their posts, but most importantly, scroll down to their stunning tables. I'm in awe. They have suggestions for skates for each level.
Remember, when in doubt, ask your coach or someone very experienced in selling skates.
I'll leave you with that for now. Obviously if you have more questions, please comment below or email me on my contact page and I'll do my best to help you find the right skate for your needs!
Curious about what happens after you get those beautiful new skates? Check out my article on breaking them in and get ready for some fun!