By Abby Farrell
When most people think of skating in Las Vegas, they probably think of the 2023 Stanley Cup champions, the Vegas Golden Knights. But the Vegas Golden Knights Skating Academy is trying to expand its presence in the skating world by establishing a new synchronized skating program on the West Coast.
The idea to start a synchronized skating program in August of 2023 seemed like a no brainer for Senior Director of Skating Programs for the Vegas Golden Knights, Carolyn Mortenson, because of their nearly 1,000 club members combined with the city’s seemingly strong interest in the team dynamic of a sport like hockey.
“Everybody was wanting to get into a team aspect, especially with all the hockey that's going on here, so we started to do that, and it's really started to explode to where I was able to get some ice time to offer Learn to Skate USA® classes,” Mortenson said. “The first session, we sold out and we had a wait list of 24 girls. It was great.”
Even before officially beginning their first Learn to Skate USA® classes, the skating club hosted introduction to synchro clinics, which quickly became popular among their club members. A few of the parents even donated matching shirts for the participants.
Finding coaches was just as easy since a few of the figure skating coaches for the club also had knowledge of and a love for synchronized skating, so they were willing to help guide the new program on the ice while Mortenson worked behind the scenes.
That same August, skaters had the opportunity to witness the sport in action when the Haydenettes – the most decorated team in the history of U.S. synchronized skating – attended U.S. Figure Skating’s Champs Camp, which was hosted in Las Vegas. This experience was important for many of the local skaters because for the first time, they were able watch the sport at the highest level in person and become inspired by those athletes.
“When the Haydenettes came for Champs Camp and they watched them practice at City National Arena, everybody loved it. It was so great,” Mortenson said.
To build on that momentum, this past month, the Vegas Golden Knights partnered with U.S. Figure Skating to increase the presence of synchronized skating in Las Vegas and to promote the upcoming 2024 U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships by hosting a free clinic in Las Vegas for locals who wanted to try synchronized skating for the first time.
Nearly 20 local skaters aged 7 to 16 were invited to Hylo Park Arena, where they were taught various fundamental synchronized skating skills. Participants were also led through off-ice warmups and even shown how to do a lift. Everyone that participated had previous skating experience but was new to synchronized skating discipline.
“The main goal was for them to come and see what it was all about — It’s fun, and it’s a team sport,” Mortenson said. “It's not just circles or holding hands.”
After the clinic was over, several skaters and their parents started eagerly asking how they can get involved in synchronized skating, adding to the already increasing interest in synchronized skating.
“There is so much interest in synchro in this community with very little direct exposure to the discipline, so we wanted to help [the Vegas Golden Knights] enhance that buzz and share additional information and tools to build on what was already being done locally,” said Megan Romeo, U.S. Figure Skating’s senior manager of events and main facilitator of the clinic. “The clinic was part of an ongoing initiative for us to give back to the communities in our event’s host cities, so we used it as an opportunity to further expose the local athletes to synchronized skating. I believe this is just the beginning of a much bigger dream of having competitive teams in Vegas.”
Only six months after starting the initiative to build a synchro program, the Vegas Golden Knights’ Learn to Skate USA® program is in its second round of eight-week sessions, and the Vegas Golden Knights are in the beginning stages of forming a competitive team going into the 2024-25 season.
As the Vegas Golden Knights grow their synchro presence in Nevada, Mortenson has begun to recognize the full impact the program could make on the West Coast.
“Part of the one thing that I've wanted to have a niche in within the figure skating community is for the Vegas Golden Knights to be good at something,” Mortenson said. “I think adding synchro to our realm of ‘hey, we're really good at this,’ that's my big goal. There's not that many teams on the West Coast, so we would like to join that elite club.”
With a new synchro program on a strong upward trajectory, it is even more fitting for the local program that the 2024 U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships will be headed to Las Vegas later this month, with the three rinks owned by the Vegas Golden Knights serving as practice rinks for the competition. Mortenson is hoping that this large event will drum up some excitement for their emerging synchro program by showing the public that there are more avenues available to pursue skating than people may realize.
“Here there's obviously hockey, hockey, hockey — that's why I have a job here — but it's not just singles skating or [pairs] skating or ice dancing,” Mortenson said. “There is something else involved with figure skating in a team aspect on a big stage, so I really hope it does get some, ‘hey, what's that?’”
She is also hoping that their own skaters will be inspired by watching teams compete for U.S. titles on a national stage.
“[I want them to see] the dedication of practice, hard work and putting your mind to it,” Mortenson said. “This is the end goal. This is what we're working to achieve.”
Follow the 2024 U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships, including news, results, tickets and more at ussynchrochampionships.com.