Cheap Skates are for Cheapskates

For those with growing children, skating season provokes acute attacks of pocket book panic. Each year, new skates must somehow materialize to encase the lengthening feet of young skaters.

Parents insist that the onset of ice sports means an onslaught on bank accounts. To counter the cash flow problem, they'll search for the cheapest pair of skates on the market, excusing themselves with: "The kid'll grow out of 'em by next year anyway.

Cheap skates, however, can cause more problems than they solve. For example, poor quality boot material translates into inadequate ankle support. Is saving a few dollars worth watching your child struggle to remain vertical on ice?

A Few Words on Fit...

Finding good quality skates is one thing. Ensuring the correct fit is another. To make sure your child enjoys skating, and improves in ability, a good fit is vital. Size up your child on these points:

  • The Fit should be snug without being crammed. If your children can wiggle their feet inside the boot, try the next size down, or the same size in a different brand. Always opt for a snug fit.
  • Ensure correct length. Ask the child to stand in an unlaced skate. Push the foot to the front of the skate so the toes just touch the end. This done, there should be room for your index finger between the boot back and the child's heel. This space translates into toe room once the boot is laced up.
  • Adjust toe room depending on the child's growth rate. A little less may be suitable for older children, while a six-year old foot requires slightly more leeway to make sure the skate lasts the winter. But in all cases, be careful that the overall fit is snug.
  • If your child suffers from ankle bending, the problem might be traced to poor support. However if this is not the case, the skate is probably too big.
  • Skate lacing also has a bearing on ankle support. Properly tightened laces should be tightest just above the instep.

What to Look for When Buying Skates

The Boot

Skating boots generally come in different type. The following descriptions will help you decide which is best for your youngster.

  1. Plastic or molded
    • Provides good ankle support (almost like a ski boot)
    • What's gained in support is lost in flexibility.
    • Built in sock liners provide extra warmth.
    • Good choice for beginner skaters. At this stage, support is more important than flexibility.
  2. Leather and/or ballistic nylon
    • Offers support without stiffness
    • Allows for flexibility of movement
    • Good choice for skaters with more developed skills
  3. Vinyl (leather look-alikes)
    • poor compromise between plastic and leather
    • low cost, but quality of material and construction is also low
    • minimal to fair ankle support
    • poor durability

The Blade

  • The best skate blades are made of good quality steel or stainless steel.
  • Generally speaking, quality blades have a bright, smooth finish.
  • Check for consistency of color on the blade. If variations are evident or if the finish is dull, keep looking.
  • On figure skates, examine the welds joining the blade parts. The larger and smoother the welds, the better. Non-welded blades are a waste of money.
  • Check the blade and the plastic holder for straightness. Even high priced skates are found with improperly mounted blades and holders. Never accept a skate with a crooked blade or holder.

Buying Second-Hand: Value for Your Money

Even if your sports equipment budget is limited, there is a way to make purchasing better quality skates less painful: buy second-hand. A strong market exists for well-kept used skates, with prices ranging between a quarter and two-thirds the price of new ones.

If you plug into this market, you don't have to settle for junk. Watch for newspaper ads and community skate sales, or check your local sports shop for trade-in possibilities. Some shops specialize in second-hand equipment. Also if you make sure your kids' skates stay in good condition, you'll have no trouble selling them at season's end.

Finding Good Buys in Second-Hand Skates

If you know what to look for, you'll spend less money on a good quality second-hand skate than on a cheaper new one. To ensure a good deal, be on the look-out for these warning signs:

  • Rivets - are they rusted, loose or missing?
  • Bare or cut leather.
  • Missing or damaged hooks or eyelets.
  • Cut or pulled stitching.
  • Rusted, worn-out, or over-ground blades. Hockey blades with tips ground right to the plastic holders have been destroyed thru poor sharpening.
  • Crooked or cracked blades or blade holders.
  • If blades on hockey skates measure 10 millimeters or less at the center of the blade, this means the life of the blade is over. If the blade center is OK, but the tips are over-ground, the skate has limited useful life remaining.
  • Pleasure skates or figure skates with picks ground off the blades are destroyed.
  • Pleasure skates or figure skates with rounded blade heels are destroyed.
  • Ankle support - even better quality skates will break down with enough hard use.
  • Bent or damaged toe cap inside of the boot -- this causes toe chafing, and blistering.
  • Rrough edges on the inside of the boot.

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