This season, winter sports fans can shoot some goals and practice their double salchows – even on the holidays.
AZ Ice in Gilbert knows that the family that skates together, stays together. So it keeps its rinks open every day of the year, including Christmas and New Year’s.
“Skating is a family event, and it’s a great way to spend time together,” said Jim Rogers, owner and partner of the rink.
Whether you’re an amateur skater or have aspirations of making the pros, AZ Ice can help. It offers public skating, hockey – including adult hockey – learn-to-skate programs, group lessons and classes via the town’s parks and recreation department. There’s also speed skating, dance, choreography and ballet – on and off the ice. (Call ahead for details about public skating times.)
Rogers, along with a partnership group, bought AZ Ice Arcadia in 2001 and then AZ Ice Gilbert and AZ Ice Peoria a few years ago.
His passion for ice skating started in high school at age 15 after a summer job at an ice rink. It turned into a lifelong career.
Rogers became a hockey player after watching the 1980 Olympics. He didn’t make it to the pros but has enjoyed teaching and coaching hockey for 35 years.
Rogers said the No. 1 draft pick in the National Hockey League last year trained at Arcadia AZ Ice from the time he was about 4 years old, which, incidentally, is an ideal age to start skating.
But people of any age can skate, of course.
“I had an 80-year-old guy that told me he was too old to ice skate,” Rogers said. “I got him on the ice.
“It’s open to everybody. It’s all levels out there. We have figure skaters who jump (and) spin in the middle, hockey players racing around on the outside.”
When it comes to hockey, “you either love it or hate it,” Rogers said. “A lot of people don’t understand it, so they don’t like it. Once they get the feel for the energy, you go to a hockey game, a pro hockey game, it grabs kids.”
“We have Learn to Play programs, so we teach kids and adults the basic skills of hockey. Hockey is one of the few sports you can’t just go out and play it,” Roger said.
The Learn to Play programs include skating skills, stick handling, passing and shooting.
“We also have open stick and puck sessions where people come out and just goof around,” he added.
AZ Ice also has started a new speed skating program conducted by instructor Mark Fitzgerald, who has been teaching it for 21 years. He started skating when he was 2 1/2 years old, when his “parents threw me out on the ice at Rockefeller Center.” That turned into a figure skating career.
“I did all four disciplines with my sister when we were little,” he said. “We did figures, ice dance, pairs and freestyle. We ended up getting a call to go to the Junior World Championships in ’92, and we decided to specialize in ice dance at that point.”
Many just skate for fun, but others are aiming to compete internationally.
“Some people are perfectly happy just feeling good about getting all the way around the rink once,” Fitzgerald said. “We have a few here working on triple jumps and have aspirations of going onto national championships.”
One such skater is 15-year-old Zoe Chrisagis, a sophomore at Corona del Sol High School in Tempe. She started skating 11 years ago and has aspirations of making figure skating a career. She hopes to get to the nationals and eventually wants to teach.
“I like watching the enjoyment on kids’ faces when they’re learning to skate,” said Zoe.
She, too, started young.
“My brother quit baseball, so I said, ‘Mom, can I join a sport?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, what do you want to try?’ And I said, ‘I want to try figure skating; it sounds like a lot of fun.’ And so I just fell in love.”
Zoe practices six days a week for up to four hours a day after school. Her routine includes double and triple jumps.
Peyton Sawyers is a 16-year-old junior at Gilbert High School. She started skating 10 years ago.
“I don’t think I’ll get to the Olympics, but I definitely do want to start coaching,” Peyton said. “I actually teach Learn to Skate right now... I want to be a teacher, and that sprung from the Learn to Skate coaching that I do here.”
She encourages parents to get their kids involved in skating. Each rink environment is “a great place to grow up,” she said.
“There’s nothing really more rewarding than seeing the smile on someone’s face when they finally master something as simple as a basic turn or as complicated as a triple jump,” added Fitzgerald. “It’s really all about each individual person and what makes them happy when they learn it.”
At the beginner level, Rogers keeps prices down so more people can have an opportunity to try. He said it’s very inexpensive if you come out once a week.
The sport does take more time and money as you progress, however. “The figure skating you see in the Olympics – it’s a daily grind,” Rogers said. “Four, five, six hours a day.”
In the summer, day camps get kids skating about four hours every day.
“This is the closest you can get to flying without leaving the ground,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s really an amazing sensation.”