For a beginner skater, the selection of boot and blade types may be overwhelming. Figure skates and hockey skates are the most common types of ice skates, but subtle differences in design create vastly different skating experiences. From blade to boot, figure skates and hockey skates are designed to facilitate distinct types of skating. The type of skating you plan to do as well as your budget are major factors when considering your skate options.
The boots of figure and hockey skates vary in design and material composition. Figure skates feature a slim-fitting boot that laces in grommets from the front of the toe and through hooks several inches over the ankle. Figure skate boots are crafted from layers of heavy leather. The thick leather provides the stiff ankle support needed to avoid injury during jumps and angled turns. Hockey boots are typically made from a combination of synthetic leather and hard, ballistic nylon rather than leather. The material provides more give during quick turns and stops but also creates a thicker barrier to protect players' feet. Hockey boots stop just above the ankle, but an extension along the back edge of boot protects players' tendons. Unlike figure skates, hockey boots have a cushioned interior for extra comfort, and beginning skaters may find the extra padding more comfortable.
Figure skate and hockey skate blades are traditionally made from tempered carbon steel treated with a chrome coat. Lighter-weight blades made from stainless steel or aluminum are also options for profession or serious skaters. Figure skate blades are designed to allow skaters to balance evenly on the ice during complex turns. The blades have an interior and exterior edge that is hollow in the middle. Though the blade appears flat, it is slightly curved so that the front and back of the blade curves off the ice. Hockey blades feature a more dramatic curve at the ends but a flatter middle. The blade is also narrower, about 3 millimeters instead of 4 millimeters. The rocker-style blades of hockey skates are designed to increase speed and stopping ability as well as agility for dramatic, quick turns around the ice. Hockey blades do not have the jagged toe pick at the front like figure skates. The toe pick allows skaters to dig into the ice for turns, jumps and other maneuvers. For beginner skaters, the toe pick is typically used as a rudimentary stopping mechanism.
Figure skates and hockey states have comparable prices, though the price increases with higher quality skates. At the time of publication, beginner figure skates average between $50 and $90. The skates tend to have less ankle support, which is a positive for novice skaters just starting out, as the stiffer ankles can be uncomfortable and unnecessary if you aren't performing tricks. If you are a more advanced figure skater, you will likely purchase your blades and boots separately and have them professionally secured, a process which can cost more than $1,000. An average price for quality hockey skates is between $100 and $200 at the time of publication, with a less dramatic price increase between quality levels.
Fit is critical when you're choosing skates. A professional skate shop will fit your for skates. Consider both your normal shoe size and the width of your feet while you are in a standing position. You will likely be wearing thick socks while skating, so if the skate feels too tight with regular socks, buy a wider boot. As with regular shoes, boots will feel more comfortable once they've been broken in a bit. Figure skates are preferable if you are interested in learning skating technique or tricks, but if you are interested in speed or sport, hockey skates are the better option. If you are not sure whether you would prefer figure or hockey skates, visit your local rink and rent skates to try out before you buy.