The need for speed

For the last 12 years, the Nelson Speed Skating Club has taught its members to fly down the ice, doing laps in 20 seconds or less. But aside from weekly practices, the club hasn’t had much chance to show off its competitive prowess at home.

TOP: Patrick Courtney and Jordan Rakuson-Buerge do laps at a Nelson Speed Skating Club practice for skaters 5 to 11 years old.

TOP: Patrick Courtney and Jordan Rakuson-Buerge do laps at a Nelson Speed Skating Club practice for skaters 5 to 11 years old.

For the last 12 years, the Nelson Speed Skating Club has taught its members to fly down the ice, doing laps in 20 seconds or less. But aside from weekly practices, the club hasn’t had much chance to show off its competitive prowess at home.

All that is about to change.

This Saturday the speed skating club will host its first meet ever at the Nelson and District Community Complex. In addition to 31 local athletes, club president and head coach Jason Hartleb says he’s expecting skaters from Salmon Arm, Vernon and possibly Kelowna and Kamloops.

Because the NDCC’s ice surface isn’t large enough for long-track speed skating, the club focuses on short-track races, as will the meet. In short track, several skaters compete at once, skating around the ice in a tight pack.

“The distances will vary based on age,” says Hartleb. “The younger kids will be doing races that are two to three laps long, and the masters will do up to 1,500 metres, which is 12 and a half laps.”

With younger skaters able to make it around the NDCC in 20 seconds and masters skaters doing the same in about 11, races are fast and furious. But Hartleb says much of the appeal of speed skating isn’t competitive.

“It’s about beating your personal best times,” he explains. “Even though in short track you’re skating with other skaters on the track, the most important thing is that every time you’re out there you skate faster. They all cheer each other on. It’s about beating your personal best.”

Though speed skating events at the Vancouver Winter Olympics gave the club a boost in membership — the number of skaters has doubled this season — Hartleb says most people are still surprised the sport “is even an option” in West Kootenay.

The closest clubs beyond the city are in Kimberley and the Okanagan Valley. Like many sports clubs in the region, the speed skaters have faced major trips whenever they’ve wanted to compete.

“That’s why we decided to do a meet,” says Hartleb. “We’ll see how much interest we generate. It’s going to give some of our kids who have never travelled to other towns a chance to race against different kids.”

The club’s first meet runs from 12 to 4 p.m. Saturday.