Above: Jessica Wiederhoeft, left, chats with a group of young people during Learn to Skate Wednesday night at Martin County Arena in Fairmont. The program, offered by Fairmont CER and the Youth Hockey Association, teaches the basics of skating.

FAIRMONT – Spending time on the ice is a favorite pastime for many in the area. Being located in Minnesota and in a city with five lakes helps. Learn to Skate aims to help the smallest skaters stay on the ice.

Learn to Skate is a joint venture between the Fairmont Youth Hockey Association and Fairmont Community Education and Recreation. Instructor Jessica Wiederhoeft estimates that this has been going on for about 15 years. It was organized by the hockey association before the CER got involved.

Wiederhoeft explained that USA Hockey, through which the association runs its youth program, has started adding extra fees and extras to the program.

“If we do it through CER, we don’t have to have all the extras and this cuts costs to make it affordable” said Wiederhoeft.

Wiederhoeft receives his lessons from USA Hockey. Members of the Fairmont men’s and women’s hockey teams help learn to skate and play hockey.

The programs are aimed at young people aged 3 to 12. Wiederhoeft took it over in 2015, after returning to Fairmont after college.

“Learning to skate is the basis for getting up, finding your balance and learning to move on skates” Wiederhoeft explained.

She said Learn to Play Hockey is for those who are interested in hockey but don’t want to commit to being on a team for an entire season. They will learn the basics of the game.

“A lot of parents ask their child to test the waters and they can join a team if they are interested. “ said Wiederhoeft.

Usually there are about 40 young people who learn to skate. Wiederhoeft said there were just over 20 this year. She doesn’t know if it’s because it hasn’t been announced or if Covid played a stunt.

“I’m actually thankful that there aren’t 40 because there are a lot of them who are really young this time around. It’s great that parents want them to try it ”, she said.

Wiederhoeft said learning to skate is beneficial because it is a lifelong skill, much like riding a bicycle.

“This is by no means a program to force hockey. There is so much more that can be done on a patch of ice ”, she said.

Wiederhoeft herself learned to skate in grade 3 thanks to a school trip she took to the arena.

“It sparked my interest and continued from there. When I started it was just squirts and I was the only girl. Now there’s the squirts, 10U, 12U plus the college girls team, “ said Wiederhoeft.

The growth of the program led the hockey association to push for more access. Two members of the hockey association sit on the community center advisory board as there is an interest in including an ice rink in the proposed community center.

She said that at the moment they are running out of ice, as the Martin County Arena is used for wedding receptions and other events, and of course the Martin County Fair in the summer.

She pointed out that many communities, especially around the Twin Cities area, have ice all year round.

“We only have half of October to March. Everyone still plays or does summer hockey, but we are limited ”, said Wiederhoeft.

She said a lot of people from that area involved in hockey go to Albert Lea, Mankato, New Ulm or even a league in the summer in the Twin Cities.

Wiederhoeft stressed that this could open up the possibility of providing figure skating.

“It could be a whole other thing added to the community”, she said.

In addition to learning to skate and learning to play hockey, which take place on Wednesday evenings, and regular practices that will begin soon, evenings of free skating and rock on ice will also be on the program.

Wiederhoeft said the rock on ice schedule is out, with the first being from 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on November 24. This weekend.

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