Our cabin crew are a talented lot. Not only do they make sure you travel safely from A to B, they climb mountains, run multiple marathons, offer expert coffee advice, and even drive sheep over London Bridge.
But even we can’t claim to have too many winter sportswomen representing us in the aisles. That’s why we’re proud to work with ex-adult medalist ice skater Carly, who once donned her skates for the GB adult figure skating team, placing in competitions abroad.
Today, Carly may have hung up her competitive skates to fly around the globe, but she still visits the rinks on our route map as often as she can. We recently caught up with our very own ice queen and began by asking about her childhood journey on the ice, as well as her top tips for ice skating venues in her favourite Virgin Atlantic destinations.
Carly, can you tell us how you first got into figure skating?
From a young age, I was always sporty and was very much an outdoor child. I was taken to see Disney on Ice at Wembley Arena when I was about eight years old, and I fell in love with all the glitzy costumes and colourful lights. A few years later a friend who was taking lessons in my home town asked if I’d like to go and watch her so I went along. I was immediately hooked and barely got through my front door before pestering my parents for lessons. Luckily they agreed and a few weeks later I was enrolled on a group learn-to-skate course. Initially I learned with hire skates, but was very pleased when Santa brought me a pair of my own comfy ice boots not long after!
At the time, there were eight grades to progress through. Each level required several weeks of practise, followed by a test which included such items as turns, one foot exercises and skating forwards and backwards in various directions. I fell in love with the sport straight away, which probably aided my determination to progress through the grades.
What did you focus on in the early years and how did you develop as a skater?
After the eight levels, you then chose which part of figure skating you wanted to concentrate on: individuals, pairs or ice dance. Being a tall child, I was too tall for a male partner so I went down the individual figure skating route where I’d learn to jump and spin and my feet would finally learn to leave the ice. I had regular early morning one-to-one private lessons, and repetition was key to advancing and being able to have a few jumps and spins under your belt. Falls were common and part of the learning experience – after all, the blades are only four millimetres wide.
In my first competition I was up against those who also trained at my rink. I remember not having a dress to skate in, so I had to borrow one! I was nervous, but enjoyed the buzz and being able to show the judges what I’d learned skating to the soundtrack from Jurassic Park. Subsequent competitions were against skaters from other UK clubs and the standard was good – this was a bit of a wake up call and make me realise a significant amount of practise would be required. Medals were won and lost and the kiss and cry area really did mean just that; I would either be pleased with how I’d skated or frustated I hadn’t executed the important elements. Competitions featured heavily until I reached 16 years old, but then I decided to focus on my studies and skating took a back seat for a while.
A few years later I realised something was missing and decided to get back on the ice again after several years away, starting lessons as an adult skater with a new coach. By 2008 I felt ready to enter to competitions again, and I was soon off to Grenoble in France with other skaters to represent the GB adult team. That year I finished fourth, narrowly missing a podium finish to Russian skaters. I continued to train and the following year skated for the adult GB team again. In 2010 I was thrilled as I finally won in France. In 2011 I competed in Helsinki and picked up a second and a third place. After that, as is often the case, a busy life and other factors meant that it was time to hang up my competitive boots, as I could no longer meet the training demands. But I continued to skate for fun whenever I could.
How has working for Virgin Atlantic affected your skating?
After 14 years with another airline, I joined Virgin Atlantic almost two years ago and feel settled and happy in my role. My fellow crew members are a pleasure to work with and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to travel and experience new cultures. The chance to pack my skates in my case is always a bonus too! I know other crew members who incorporate their hobbies such as yoga and spinning into their cabin crew lives; there aren’t many careers where you can make time for hobbies while away at work.
As I skate purely for leisure now, any skating fits around my cabin crew role. Unfortunately, I currently have a back complaint which limits me to very basic skating – so I look forward to being fixed! Working for a long haul operator has opened up opportunities to skate at various ice rinks on the Virgin Atlantic network, and I’m meeting new people who love skating as much as I do. I’m more of a spectator these days and enjoy travelling with friends to the European and World Championships during annual leave. It’s great to see some of the British youngsters coming through. I also enjoy editing music for the skaters and it’s rewarding when they place well in a high profile international competition with music I have edited for them.
Tell us about your favourite ice rinks on our route map
Rockefeller Center: With the Christmas season fast upon us, there’s only one location that springs to mind… New York City. This year’s theme is a ‘Land of 1000 Delights’, with brightly coloured decorations resulting in a wonderfully traditional Christmas look. The main draw is the Rockefeller ice rink and Christmas tree, a tradition for over 75 years. Leading down to the rink and the tree is the beautiful Channel Gardens, where 12 wire-sculpture angels have stood since 1954, appearing in many a Hollywood movie. The ice is very well kept here, and if you want the true Christmas experience, be sure to pop down when it’s dark to fully appreciate the lights. Prices for skating are around $32 during the holiday season.
Central Park: Here you’ll find the Wollman Ice Rink and you might be surprised at the sheer size of the ice available. The skyline backdrop is spectacular, and you may recognise the famous Plaza Hotel from the holiday classic Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. This rink is great value for money as it never feels too busy. Cards aren’t accepted so ensure you have sufficient cash; prices start at $19 during the holidays, plus skate rental from $9.
Las Vegas Holiday at the Park: Holiday at the Park is a new ice rink for 2016 and has gone straight into my top 3. For a holiday rink this is a great size and fits perfectly in between the New York New York and Monte Carlo hotels, just in front of the T-Mobile Arena. The 60ft tree is impressive, as are all the trees covered in fairy lights and the giant figurine in front of the rink. Here you can meet Santa himself on the red carpet, enjoy hot cocoa and browse the outdoor stalls. Skating is just $15 including skate rental and for its first year is open until January 15th.
Union Square, San Francisco: This traditional holiday rink sits right in front of a beautifully decorated Macy’s department store in the heart of San Francisco’s Union Square – head to the top of Macy’s for a view of this mini wonderland which captures the holiday spirit. The one block plaza is surrounded by festive lights, a giant Christmas tree and several hundred Santas during Santa Cana weekend. Right beside the rink is the 85ft stone Dewey Monument, similar to Nelson’s Column. They say George Dewey casts a watchful eye each year! Admission is $12 plus $6 skate rental.
Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas: For the fifth year in a row, the Cosmopolitan pool area in Las Vegas transforms into an ice rink high above Las Vegas. It may not be the biggest of holiday ice rinks, but the views from above are gorgeous. Overlooking the heart of the Strip, you can enjoy and feel the warmth from a number of fire pits along with the skating. In true Vegas style, no detail is omitted and you can even experience snow showers every 30 minutes at peak times. Admission including skate rental is $20.
Yerba Buena Center, San Francisco: If you’re hoping to skate beyond the holiday season, then look no further for a permanent facility just 10 minutes walk from Union Square. The Yerba Buena centre offers an Olympic ice pad open every day of the year. The beautiful glass panels make this rink feel very roomy with lots of natural light. The location is great with shops and food outlets all within a few minutes. Here you can take a skating lesson and the rink has a pro shop for all your skating needs. Admission is $12 plus $4 skate rental.
Pasadena, Los Angeles: While tourists may not initially think to visit Pasadena, the city has charming courtyards, squeaky clean streets, an upscale shopping and dining district, and is away from the hustle and bustle of downtown LA. The Pasadena ice skating rink is a centre of excellence and has produced top Olympic athletes from within the USA. The ice quality is top notch. Public skating sessions are run every day in the afternoons, so why not take a lesson with one of the professionals here, or even just pop your head in the door to watch Olympic athletes train. Admission is $10 plus $4 skate rental.
Horsham Ice Rink and Winter Wonderland: If you’re back home in Blighty, or indeed visiting the UK and West Sussex area, be sure to pay a visit here. Situated at Camping World in Horsham, this generous sized winter rink with beautiful lighting is my new favourite UK holiday rink this year and should definitely be on your bucket list. With no bad weather to spoil your fun, this undercover facility opened its doors on 21st October and will run through to January 15th 2017. All ages are welcome, and young beginners have their very own waddle of ice penguins on hand, designed to help youngsters gain their confidence on the ice. Skaters and spectators alike can enjoy an alpine themed café serving all your winter favourites. Skating here offers superb value for money with off peak prices starting from as little as £6.50 an hour.
As if that isn’t enough to keep you occupied, there’s free entrance to the winter wonderland just a few feet away. Every detail has been thought of; even the snow covering the rooftops and Christmas trees looks incredibly real. Throughout December you can enjoy a Christmas market selling lots of gifts and local crafts, a fantastic Santa’s grotto, a ferris wheel, mini roller coaster, teacup ride and helter skelter, plus many more rides all centred around the large indoor ice rink.