An Icy Passion

Milena Markin, 6, is skating on thin ice.

She wants to be one of the 20 or so girls who are leaping and spinning in the rink behind her, but dad Ron says it’s time to go.

"Just a few more minutes?" she begs him, looking every bit like a little princess in her purple satin costume with Cinderella kneepads and white skates.

But Dad is impervious to that plaintive, adorable look so the tot has to put aside her escapades on ice for now.

"She loves it," Ron Markin says of his daughter’s ice skating hobby. He hopes it keeps her out of the malls when she’s older.

About four times a week, Milena dons her skates, kneepads and satin dress to practice her spins at the Las Vegas Ice Center. On this recent Tuesday, she is preparing for an upcoming figure skating competition.

Yes, figure skating. In Las Vegas.

While the city is far from the mecca of ice skating, the sport has a solid, if small, following here. With three years’ experience, Milena’s almost a veteran, but several of the girls practicing on this day surpass her with five, 10, even 15 years on the ice.

And though they say they skate for the fun or love of it, the girls all seem to harbor a secret, common desire: to be the next Dorothy Hamill or Michelle Kwan.

"This year I hope to go to regionals and then one day, nationals," says Emily Weinschreider, 11, who won’t rule out the Olympics.

But first, she must go up against her best friend, Clara Buck, 11, in the local competition that all of the skaters seem to be practicing for on this day. The stakes are high, as they are with every contest, but the girls won’t let that stand in the way of their friendship. Emily has been skating for nearly six years, while Clara has been skating about a year longer.

"We’re actually going to be skating against each other. Sometimes it’s kind of sad, but we still cheer each other on," Emily says. "One time, Clara got first and I got fourth, and she was just really happy."

Like life-sized music box figurines, the girls, anywhere from tots to teens, glide along the ice rink, practicing their double salchows, half loops and Biellmann spins. They’re bundled in mittens, jackets, thick tights or pants, some rubbing bare hands together to ward off the chill. No one’s thinking about the 100-plus degree heat outside.

Ice skating is a cool sport, figuratively and literally, says Jessica Montalvo, 17. What other activity can local kids do where cold noses and frozen fingertips take precedence over sunburn and dehydration?

But it’s also an expensive hobby. Jessica’s skates cost $1,200. Granted, they’re for experienced skaters — she has appeared in regional competitions — but even a beginners’ pair can run $300. Factor in costumes, coaching fees, ice fees and contest fees and a skater can spend thousands of dollars in one year.

But the cost is well worth it, says Jessica’s mother, Jamie Montalvo.

"Skating is her passion. We’re broke, but we’re supportive," she says, laughing.

Jessica started skating when she was 2 years old, after her parents took her to see Disney on Ice.

"I wanted to try it," she says. "And here I am, still trying it."

Jessica’s jumps are higher, her spins tighter than the other skaters today. She may be leaving for college to study forensics this fall but she wants to be ready for the chance to pursue an Olympic medal one day.

A lot of ice rinks across the country operate seasonally, says Pamela Rodriguez, president of the Skating Club of Nevada. But the ice center, which boasts a rink for hockey and one for figure skating, is open year-round. The operational costs of an ice rink are high, says rink manager Bob DellaRocca. The giant compressor that cools the water at 18 degrees requires a lot of power, especially during the summer. But the center is a popular site for hockey scouting; in June, more than 400 hockey players came from across the nation and Canada to participate in the Global Las Vegas Showcase. Scouts and coaches from universities come every year to check out the talent, says DellaRocca. And that helps pay the bills.

The center isn’t only for hockey players and figure skaters; anyone can skate, DellaRocca says. The rink offers public skating sessions, lessons for kids and even a coffee club for older adults.

Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at spadgett@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4564.

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