Team Soldotna ranked first in the three-day Riverskate competition held Friday through Sunday.
Alaska’s largest figure skating contest — celebrating its 20th year — drew more than 150 contenders from eight rinks to the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. All teams are members of the international Ice Skating Institute association.
The local unit consists of 40 figure skaters from 5 to 30 years old, said Amber Abbott, a parent of Riverskate competitor McKenzie Abbott. Over the weekend the teammates competed in large productions, couples spotlight and various other skating style performances.
Abbott said the three-day competition is fast paced.
“Sometimes you have three minutes in between performances,” Abbott said. “You have to do a complete costume change in two minutes.”
Eric Paulsrud, a senior competitor, has been on the team for three years. Donning a completed Peter Pan costume, including a baseball cap layered in dark-green duct tape, he laced up his black skates to prepare for a couples spotlight performance with his girlfriend. He said he doesn’t know how to sew and sometimes designing costumes requires resourcefulness.
Abbott filled her daughter’s hat by hand with 1,600 sequins for one of her performances.
Mary Ward, mother of skater Lindsay Ward, said sometimes team members have more than 15 different performances, and have to have unique costumes for most of them. Taking part in between eight and ten different performances is more common, she said. The competition is points based, and skaters are rated on aspects of the performance such as choreography, timing and technical abilities, Paulsrud said.
Team Soldotna ended up with 954 points, Abbott said. The next highest team from Eagle River’s Harry J. McDonald Memorial Center won 528, she said.
When Paulsrud was younger, he had originally planned to be a hockey player.
“Figure skating was more for my personality,” Paulsrud said. “It is more of an art form than a contact sport. I still watch hockey though.”
Amanda Ritchie and her friend Rachel Shassetz also performed in a couples spotlight Sunday. She will be graduating from Kenai Central High School this year but plans to continue figure skating once she moves to Anchorage.
“I just find a lot of joy in skating,” Ritchie said.
Each year the team members choose what they will perform, Ritchie said. If anyone struggles to come up with an idea, the coaches will add some input, she said.
Abbott said the dramatic age range helps the younger skaters learn, and teaches the older skaters how to mentor.
Because the team includes members from different communities, such as Sterling and Kasilof, as well as from in town, meeting new people is quite common. Madalyn McEwen has been coaching Team Soldotna, whose co-coach is Sylvia Shaffer, for nearly two decades. She said the competition brings more new faces each year.
The players skate for up to ten months each year, for ten or more hours a week, Abbott said.
“That’s amazing at any level, but to think we have that kind of dedication right here,” Abbott said. “These kids are inspiring.”
For some of the younger competitors, that dedication will carry over into adulthood.
Paulsrud said he will continue to skate after leaving the Kenai Peninsula.
“I am never going to hang up my skates,” Paulsrud said. “Why quit when I’m having so much fun?”