When managing a skate shop that is not only located inside an almost legendary arena building, but also surrounded by famous universities filled with brilliant students, it is probable to have a diverse and interesting clientele. A student snowflake, having decided that she wanted to participate in the university sponsored ice show, came into the shop one Monday evening wishing to purchase skates.
She brought her friend along who had been skating since the Fall term began, so obviously had a vast wealth of skating knowledge. Giving them both the benefit of the doubt, they had probably spent a great deal of time researching brands and models so were equipped with some valid, albeit not realistic, information.
It was a challenge to keep her in the correct level beginner skates. The phrase “A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing,” rang true. These girls were info-armed and ice-dangerous. This potential skater spoke perfect English, but her voice was so soft, if a cotton ball had a sound, that would be her voice. She whispered every comment to her friend who then translated in an audible decibel range.
The whispering snowflake’s feet were wide, so I turned to basic Jacksons. Appearance was everything, and suggestions fairly flew into the air after every step. Skates had to at least appear to be high level skates, which ruled out anything strictly recreational.
While I would have preferred a Mystique, which has a smaller toe pick and is slightly less stiff, we settled on a Jackson Artiste in a size 6.5C. She wanted to know why I could not order in a size 6.25 D which would have been perfect. While her friend giggled, I explained that only custom-made skates are available in quarter sizes and were much too stiff for beginners and extremely expensive. Oops, first flaw in her formula resulted in the phrase that I would hear consistently for the next 3 days.
“Can you fix them?”
I replied that yes, I could improve the fit and comfort level., It is rare that a pair of stock boots, fits perfectly with no adjustment. Beginners are also not used to the snug feel of a properly fitted skate. Comfort level is acquired by wearing the skates on a regular basis so that they break in properly.
I handed her a roll of colored skate tape and scissors, asked her to stand so her feet would expand with her body weight and put a small piece of tape on areas that felt painful. I checked out another customer while she and her friend accomplished the task and when I returned to them, the boots were literally covered in tape. I suggested that if the boots were that painful, perhaps we should try a softer model.
“Just fix them, they’ll be fine. We’ll just stay until they are fixed.”
I sighed and reiterated that once I start adjusting the skates to her feet, that she would be committed to the purchase. She agreed so I placed the skates in the oven for heat-molding, explaining my actions every step of the way. I considered that students liked cut and dry problem solving, so any equation that had no guarantee of an absolute answer was suspect and subject to constant questioning and testing. When warmed, I began to gently punch and smooth out any areas of the boots that were marked and put them back on her feet while still warm following lacing directions and explaining every step so that she could lace them herself. I always included a skate care and maintenance sheet that reiterated all the steps with every skate sale.
“Better, not perfect.” She said and noticed her heel lift in one skate.
I snugged that up. This continued for another hour, after which I would not do any more punching as it would ruin the integrity of the boots plus the concept of skating in bunny slippers would not allow her to learn the proper technique to master basic skills. She still was not completely satisfied with the result but would try them on the ice. I finished the blade mount, sharpened them, she added guards and soakers at her friend’s suggestion, they checked out and left.
She returned for the next 2 days so I could continue to “Fix” them. I checked and rechecked every area of her foot, skate socks, blade alignment, weight distribution, heel position, everything. They fit well.
On the second day she finally commented that she didn’t understand why they felt better in the shop but not on the ice. I asked her to go through her pre-skate routine so I could watch her lace the skates. Eureka! I asked why she was making the laces so tight at the ankle instead of following the lacing procedures that I had suggested and out came the magic words:
“But my mother said….”
“When did your mother skate?” I asked.
“When she was a girl. I think she used her older sister’s skates.”
“Skate construction has changed so much since then and there is support built into the boots. Besides being just thin leather (I showed her a pair of vintage skates I had on the wall) her sister’s skates were probably too big. She needed to tie them on tightly so her feet didn’t slide around. Let’s try it again but lace them looser at the ankle so you can bend your knees.”
Her face lit up, and it was obvious that she had mastered the puzzling boot fit equation. Even if a skater attends Harvard or MIT, preconceived notions and too much information or advice is not always beneficial. Mathematics professors teach math, Physics professors teach physics and skate technicians will provide the best information about your skates…. Sorry mom.