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How to Skate Successfully on Synthetic Ice

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Synthetic ice is a viable alternative to refrigerated ice. In numerous tests involving three different products, we have found that a skater can perform any skating maneuver on EZ Glide 350 that can be executed on refrigerated ice. But are all synthetic ice products created equal? The answer is a resounding "no". Some maneuvers are not possible or too dangerous to attempt on some surfaces such as UHMW, which has been suggested as usable for synthetic ice skating; however, there are ways to increase the odds of having a more successful experience, regardless of the synthetic ice product chosen.

Synthetic ice has been utilized since the mid 1960s. Recent technological changes in polymers and manufacturing processes have enabled the production of a significantly better synthetic ice surface than the ones used pre-1990. It may have been difficult to have a positive and effective experience on anything other than refrigerated ice prior to the 1980's, but even then skating on synthetic ice was possible.

Regardless of the synthetic ice product being used, it is important to follow the manufacturer's installation and maintenance instructions. Ensure that all panels are properly installed and all joints are tight and secure before each skating session. The safety of the skating surface should be the top priority. Here are some tips that should help improve the skating experience and achieve the full potential of any synthetic ice skating surface:

Maintenance
Regardless of the synthetic ice product being used, it is important to realize that a good synthetic ice product is low maintenance. It is not, however, "no maintenance". In actuality, many issues that one would have with regards to skating on refrigerated ice can be applied to skating on synthetic ice.

If a refrigerated skating surface is dirty (dust, dirt, sand, etc.) the skating surface will be slower than a clean, glossy and smooth resurfaced sheet of ice. Glide potential will be decreased. Blades will tend to "grab" in those locations; therefore, speed will be diminished. The same is true of synthetic ice. The solution is a simple one - one that is often overlooked or ignored, and one that is far less expensive than refrigerated ice - clean the synthetic ice surface. Cleaning of the surface should be accomplished as per the manufacturer's instructions, taking into consideration if a cleaning solution should be applied. If a cleanser is required, it is vital that all cleanser is removed prior to skating. Many cleansers act as abrasives and if left on the surface will do nothing but reduce any glide potential and rapidly dull skate blades.

Surface Preparation
A vital part of maintaining and preparing a synthetic surface for skating is making sure the synthetic ice surface has a sufficient amount of glide enhancer. Although it is possible to skate on synthetic ice without the use of a glide enhancer, doing so can be detrimental to a successful training session, skating experience and life expectancy of equipment. The use of a glide enhancer serves two very important functions: It will significantly increase the glide ratio; and it will also behave as a coolant to skate blades, thus requiring less skate sharpening and extending blade life. Water should be a key component of the enhancer, as this will maximize blade cooling. The use of a glide enhancer should not be underestimated. (Its use can make or break the entire experience.)

Equipment
When skating on synthetic ice, skate blades must be sharp. Dull skate blades will not perform well on either refrigerated or synthetic ice. Again, the use of the right glide enhancer will facilitate maintaining sharp edges, as will keeping the skating surface clean. Skaters may also experiment with different sharpening concave radii to determine which suits their skating best. The method of choosing a concave radius on synthetic ice is quite similar to that of refrigerated ice - personal preference and comfort level. There is no right or wrong, it simply is a matter of skating style and choice.

Skating on Synthetic Ice Surfaces
A good quality, well prepared and maintained synthetic surface will result in skating movements and posture identical to that exhibited on refrigerated ice. Transitioning from refrigerated ice to synthetic ice for an experienced or new skater is a simple matter. Posture remains identical when comparing the approach to the two skating surfaces. knees should be well bent while leaning forward at the waist. Cold skate blades will resist movement and do not perform well on synthetic ice. Push hard through the first six or eight strokes. An aggressive approach will warm your blades from friction allowing them to acclimate to the synthetic surface resulting in speed which is more easily accomplished and maintained. Remember to stay close to the surface by exaggerating the bent knee position. This will accommodate a much longer and stronger stroke with each push. Acclimation to a synthetic surface should only take a few minutes to achieve. The acclimation time will decrease and eventually diminish with experience. Once acclimated, an onlooker should not be able to discern purely by watching a skaters' movements, posture and skills if the skater is on refrigerated or synthetic ice.

Skating on synthetic ice can be just as exciting as and even more beneficial than skating on refrigerated ice - as long as the synthetic ice product that is chosen is of high quality, the surface and equipment are maintained and prepared properly, and an aggressive approach toward skating is implemented. These elements should not be overlooked or underestimated with regards to how it will influence perception and experience.