In the last two years, trying to skate around COVID-19 restrictions has likely been far harder than choreographing a synchronized skating routine.
But Skate Sea2Sky, the skating club based in Squamish, has done just that.
In late December, head coach Kari-Ann MacDonald wrangled between 140 and 150 skaters into three holiday performances of "Journey through 2021."
This was the first time the annual show was put on that many times.
"It was just exhilarating for them all to be able to perform again," MacDonald said.
Last year, a performance for a video camera and not an audience had to do as the holiday exhibition.
This year, a full capacity audience was allowed in the stands.
The Skate Sea2Sky winter season gets started on Jan. 10.
So far, there aren't new COVID-19 restrictions for skating.
"I know that when it comes to sports right now, they're just trying to keep all the kids active as they can. And I do firmly believe in that, because I believe keeping kids active keeps healthy minds and healthy hearts," she said, adding children still need to be allowed to be kids.
The club has remained extraordinarily vigilant and attentive to all protocols, MacDonald added, and hasn't had issues with COVID-19 transmission.
The club is currently able to run its full list of programs — CanSkate, CompetitiveSkate and StarSkate programs.
MacDonald said that there is still room for more skaters in the winter session for CanSkate classes.
All registration is online.
"We had great participation in the fall program. So we look forward to the same in the winter," she said.
While the club hasn't gotten back up to pre-pandemic enrolment numbers, they are about three-quarters of the way there.
Last year, to accommodate COVID-19 vaccination clinics, the rink became unavailable for six months starting in the spring, right after skating registration had completed, which was not ideal, MacDonald noted.
"Through the 2020-21 season, we did survive," she said.
But skaters had to travel to the Whistler rink for ice time.
She noted that Petra Gier, facility co-ordinator in Whistler was "fantastic" in her efforts to accommodate the Squamish contingent.
"She was able to find us enough ice to at least keep us, you know, training and somewhat up on our skills,” MacDonald said.
Nevertheless, the club lost some competitive skaters.
"Some of them got tired of the travel and moved on. So, I've had reduced numbers, but the CanSkate numbers are starting to grow again, so with that, hopefully, the club will continue to flourish,” she said.
In November, several of the club's skaters competed in the 2021 BC Coast Region STAR 5 to Gold Competition and then in the 2021 Jingle Blades Competition, placing well. (See below).
“We didn't have any medalists [in B.C. Region competition], but saw personal achievements and goals met by all five girls after 22 months of not competing,” MacDonald said.
Last year, in-person competition was cancelled due to the pandemic, though there was a video-entry competition, which is not the same as live competition, MacDonald noted.
"I did have them compete virtually. It was the only virtual competition they got to do through all of COVID...There were awards and report cards, but we didn't make that big of a deal about it. Just because it wasn't the same."
More in-person competitions are on the schedule this year.
COVID ripple effect
There has been another way the pandemic has influenced the club — and perhaps the sport in general.
MacDonald noticed that some of the skaters who registered in the fall were older than beginner skaters typically are, likely because they stayed away during the first year of the pandemic.
"My average age would have been up a couple of years that went into CanSkate for the Fall program. And I'd say it was kids that didn't get to go in and parents weren't comfortable," she said, adding that last year, kids had to be dropped at the front door and left for their session, due to COVID-19 restrictions.
This year, parents can come in and watch, though they're not allowed to stand around and mingle.
Proof of vaccination is required.
It isn't mandatory, but MacDonald also advises that kids have their skates on when they arrive at the rink, so they just have to remove their guards before stepping out onto this ice. This prevents parents and kids from creating a crowd in the lobby.
For folks nervous about registering lest COVID-19 restrictions shut things down again, MacDonald says that the club will give refunds if that is the case.
The club has also added a session just for adult skaters.
No experience is necessary.
"You don't need any skills; we will teach you how to skate. And if you have skills already, we challenge you on what you need to learn. So it is group formatted with individual assessment of what you can do and challenges set up accordingly," MacDonald said.
Sessions run on Friday nights from Jan. 14 to Mar. 25 on Friday nights from 6:15 to 7 p.m.
The club is looking for volunteers who can help out here and there. It doesn't have to be a big year-long commitment, MacDonald stressed.
Help is needed at various times throughout the year, including for the annual holiday show and for ongoing fundraising.
MacDonald said she is grateful to her coaches Brittney-Ann Jordan and Anik Sequin, and her seven-person executive, who helped her and the club navigate challenging times with ever-changing mandates and protocols.
For more on the club, go to skatesea2sky.com.
Nov 19 to 21 BC Coast Star 5 to Gold Competition
Participants: Gabrielle Duarte Star 9 & Gold Artistic; Piper Evans Star 6 & 7; Ryelin McCarten Star 5 13 & Over, Artistic 7; Coral Humphrey Star 5 & Over Artistic 5; Chloe Pereverzoff Star 5 U 13.
Nov 27& 28 Jingle Blades Competition
Timmy Rhutihauser Bronze
Abby Garritsen — Silver
Thea Falconer — Silver
Mehar Atariwala — Bronze
Dori Tao — Bronze
Paityn Jordan — Silver
Katherine Kordel — Silver
Matilda Wight — Silver
Katie Glenday — Bronze
Saylor Wampler — Silver
Isha Atariwala — Silver
Dakota Brownjohn — Bronze
Sacha Chenier-Peterson — 4th place
Faeryn Sherry — Silver
**Please note, this story has been corrected and updated since it was first posted. MacDonald did not found the Squamish club, as was first stated, but spearheaded the name change a few years ago. We also clarified which competition MacDonald was talking about. Unfortunately, since the story was written, due to COVID-19, the upcoming competition in February was cancelled, so we removed the reference to it.