WHITEFISH – Before there were large figure skating shows and hundreds of kids zipping across the ice at Stumptown Ice Den, there was Craig Scott and a bus.
Scott, who managed Whitefish’s outdoor ice pond before the Den was built, would drive a bus to local schools and pick up loads of kids to take skating in the early 1990s. He was planting the seeds of what today is an ever-growing skating community.
Carol Anderson, president of the Whitefish Figure Skating Club and a former professional skater, recalls Scott’s efforts fondly. At the time, she was also helping manage the pond and doing her part to get more kids – and adults – interested in skating. Anderson organized the first ice show at the outdoor rink in 1990.
Now as the second annual Flathead Valley Invitational figure skating competition nears, Anderson is proud to see how far ice skating – and more specifically figure skating – has come in Northwest Montana since the 1990s. The Flathead Valley Invitational competition, hosted by the figure skating club, will be held at the Stumptown Ice Den on Jan. 30 and 31.
“It’s really a lot of work to put on a competition,” Anderson said. “So this is great.”
The Whitefish Figure Skating Club began in 1993 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping skaters reach an advanced or elite level. It is sanctioned by the United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA). This year, the club has 24 members and generally meets three days a week for a structured practice, though many of the skaters spend additional time on the ice through the city’s “Learn-to-Skate” program. Jennifer Boye, a highly ranked professional figure skater, is the club’s head coach.
Between the figure skating club and the city-sponsored program, local kids have access to a rare assembly of top-notch instructors. Like Boye, Jane Moody, the learn-to-skate program’s director, is also a professional figure skater. Moody used to travel across the globe, participating in elite competitions and shows. Today she focuses her efforts on building the ice skating culture in the Flathead. Moody said she gets upward of 80 people in her learn-to-skate program.
Through the efforts of the club, local skaters and participants from around the Northwest United States up through Canada will have a chance to showcase their talent at the Flathead Valley Invitational for the second year in a row. Last year 57 participants signed up, though Anderson said the number is closer to 40 this year, largely because of economic factors. Still, Anderson said 40 is encouraging.
The invitational is a major fundraiser for the figure skating club. While it’s free to the public, participants pay a registration fee. The club also funds itself through a variety of other fundraisers and also shows, which charge a general admission. Anderson said the shows often bring in nationally renowned skaters. In December, the “Enchantment on Ice” show featured Laney Diggs, an emerging star in the world of figure skating.
The rise of skating in the Flathead is evident in Kalispell and Columbia Falls as well. Two years ago, Kalispell put in an ice rink at Woodland Park to go along with its existing skating pond. In December, Columbia Falls also installed a portable outdoor ice rink in Horine Park. The Woodland Ice Center in Kalispell has been steadily growing in popularity, with more people taking advantage of its different skating opportunities: competitive hockey, casual hockey, open skating, lessons and more.
Many of the club’s skaters are dancers as well, which is logical. While they vary widely in age from year to year, this winter’s squad consists of mostly pre-teenagers, with many beginning at an increasingly early age. Almost all are girls. Some travel to competitions elsewhere in Montana, in Canada and places like Sun Valley, Idaho.
With the Stumptown Ice Den, the days of shoveling the ice off before practice are over. Anderson said she couldn’t be happier about the ice rink, though she hopes it finds enough money to purchase additional bleachers. As the popularity of skating grows, so do the crowds. After the Flathead Valley Invitational, the Den will also hold a figure skating show on March 28.
“This is a really nice facility,” Anderson said. “They get the very best here.”
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