Apex Center Skating Director helped guide "grassroots effort" to revamp national program

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Spend a little time at the Apex Center Ice Arena, and you’ll see living proof that ice skating is an activity for lifetime enjoyment. It’s magic for everyone from preschoolers and their parents to seniors who have skated for decades. However, it starts and ends with a solid foundation.

Patti Snyder, Apex Center Skating Director, assisted with a recent effort to retool Learn to Skate USA, the national curriculum that programs and facilities use in for their skating programs. Solidifying and strengthening skaters’ skills was a major goal of the “first-ever major rebranding” of the curriculum, Snyder said.

Her close connection with Learn to Skate USA (LTS) came from 35 years as a coach and skating director, including experience on the training team for an Olympic skater in Colorado Springs, U.S. Figure Skating headquarters.

Since its inception in 1968, more than 2 million people have learned to ice skate, and the LTS program is used by more than 1,000 community ice rinks nationwide. For that reason, the revamping project took two years and happened “from the ground up,” Snyder said. An extensive evaluation process helped sharpen the focus on what worked and what didn’t, based on input from coaches and skating directors across the nation.

The curriculum is progressive, with students passing through six levels and building on existing skills throughout the series. As part of the plan to bring in new skaters and retain existing skaters working their way through the levels, the redesign team worked to smooth out challenging areas in the learning process. This process underscored the need for stronger fundamentals. “The old curriculum had eight levels, and the new one has six. We looked at how to improve the flow and continuity so that the learning process is more smooth and consistent,” Snyder explained. “The program is more condensed, the skill progression is more logical, and the result is a stronger skill set.”

These fundamental skills are common to all ice skating activities, including figure skating, hockey and speed skating. “Once a skater finishes the six LTS levels, they may decide to continue in freestyle skating, hockey, speed skating or recreational skating. The fundamentals they have learned will help them succeed on the ice, whatever activity they choose,” Snyder said. The Apex Center Ice Arena also offers classes such as Pre Free Skate, designed to help skaters transition from the fundamental lesson series to the more advanced freestyle skating curriculum.

Although the revamped program officially rolled out in June, the full implementation of the new series began in September at the Apex Center Ice Arena. “The rollout was thorough and well thought out,” Snyder said, “but we are all learning the details together. Going from eight levels to six means the yardstick is a little different.” Snyder and the coaching staff are working with parents and skaters already in the sequence to help with any needed adjustments.

All in all, she says, “The progression meshes better. One of the challenges of the previous program was that some skaters found it too hard to pass through the higher levels. Stressing the fundamentals makes that part easier.” It also increases the likelihood that a skater will enjoy his or her sport for a lifetime. At the Apex Center Ice Arena, about 85% of those who start out in LTS end up finishing the progression. That compares to the national average of 65-70%, Snyder said. She attributes the high retention rate to a quality class experience. Only professional coaches and instructors are on the ice teaching lessons, and classes are kept small, especially for younger skaters. Smaller classes don’t require assistant instructors, so students get professional, individual attention. “Our ice skating program is very accessible; the Learn to Skate curriculum and good teacher/student ratio takes out the intimidation. Many parents are excited to see that their kids love skating immediately, even if they had never skated before.”

The best positive feedback for the revamped program is attendance. “Right now all the classes are very full! The fun part is that the parents and the students are thrilled with the progress.”

The Learn to Skate program at the Apex Center is actually quite a bargain. “When you consider what’s included in the classes – free public skate and free skate rentals – the cost per session is about $12,” Snyder said. The winter series of classes starts January 7, with classes at a variety of times and days to meet diverse schedules.

Meanwhile students, coaches and are planning a festive skating afternoon on Saturday, December 17. Come and skate with Santa at the public skate, 3-5 pm at the Apex Center Ice Arena, 13150 W. 72nd Ave. There will be on-ice photo opportunities with Santa and the Zamboni! Normal public skating fees apply. Then stay for a free holiday performance by Apex Center Ice Arena figure skaters – nearly 30 in all! For event details, call 303.403.2598.