Skaters make a safety statement

Club visited by world skating champion

Whistler Skating Club is taking on old traditions in the name of safety.

While the young skaters’ outfits sparkle with the best of them, the athletes have an added accessory on their heads. Parents of the Whistler Crystallites Synchronized Skate Team made a decision to keep their children in protective headgear. While researching options, Fern Von der Porten came across the Ice Halo — a headband made out of dense, lightweight foam.

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“We are using them as an alternative to not wearing a helmet. As a parent it (the ice halo) is better than nothing and as a kid it is better than a helmet,” she said, noting helmets aren’t always popular; especially when they are a rarity at skate meets.

Every day Von der Porten treats people with head trauma as a doctor in ER. She was surprised when her two daughters, eight-year-old Brooke Bessie and six-year-old Hazel Bessie, graduated from their first level and weren’t required to continue wearing helmets.

“It is just the culture of the sport,” she said, adding she’s hoping the tide is slowly changing.

Whistler Skating Club’s young members often find themselves among a handful or less of skaters wearing protective headgear at competitions, club director Christine Zucht said.

In Whistler, parents are used to having to put kids in helmets, she noted, whether it be for mountain biking, skiing or hockey.

“When we have this conversation in general with other people they are shocked,” Zucht said. “All the other sports we do in this community are with helmets on.”

The Ice Halos weren’t the only new addition to the ice last week. The club also got a visit from the former co-captain of the NEXXICE senior team — Canada’s first synchronized skating team to get gold in the World Synchronized Skating Championships. Recently retired from the team, Kristen Loritz was visiting Whistler for a ski vacation when she looked up the local skate club. The Toronto native first laced up her skates with a synchro team at the age of 11. Now 23 years old, the sport has been a great part of her life.

“It is one of those sports in which it is really mezmorizing,” she said. “It is quite mind-boggling to see it. It’s a lot faster than people think. It is also a lot tougher than people think.”

Loritz last visited the Meadow Park Sports Centre in 2014, when NEXXICE was training for the Canadian Championships, which were held in Burnaby. The team struck gold at that event. They also took the top podium spot at the International Skating Union (ISU) World Championships hosted in Hamilton, Ontario, last year.

“That was a big moment,” Loritz said, noting she thought it was a suiting note for her to retire on.

Loritz introduced the six to 10-year-old Whistler skaters to some basic skills and fundamental foundations. The young skaters were abuzz with excitement. They gathered around a bench before the practice, carefully writing out messages to their newfound inspiration.

Loritz said it felt great to be back in Whistler, this time around with a group of energetic youth.

“When I come and do things like this I remember I was that age once buzzing around the ice.”

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