Budding ice skaters and hockey players are in safe hands at Queenstown Ice Arena. Deanna Pielak-Jones, who leads the local learnto-skate programme, has more than 40 years’ experience as a professional coach in her native Canada, the UK and New Zealand.
She first laced up her ice skates aged eight in Saskatchewan and started teaching part-time in her last year of high school. While at university in Alberta Deanna decided to become a full-time figure skating coach and she has followed her dream ever since.
She says her mission is to impart her passion for skating wherever possible. “For me, it’s the closest thing to flying without leaving the ground.” Her journey from Canada to Queenstown has included working at rinks in Auckland, Gore and Dunedin – where she coached Kiwi figure skater Morgan Figgins to achieve both the national senior and junior titles three years running – Streatham in South London and the far north of Canada.
After setting up a sea kayak business in the Bay of Islands in 1989 Deanna missed the thrill of skating so much she volunteered to run roller blading sessions for the local community. She still guides sea kayaking trips in the summer but has spent her winters at Queenstown Ice Arena since 2012.
After school classes on Mondays and Thursdays cater for youngsters aged four to 16 while the adult programme on Tuesday nights regularly attracts 20 people each week. “We show skaters the basics – how to skate forwards, transfer your weight, stop and skate backwards but not with speed. From there they can go on to figure skating, hockey, speed skating or just skating for fun,” says Deanna.
The arena hosts regular speed skating classes plus hockey instruction sessions on Tuesday afternoons. The sessions are designed for more confident skaters who may one day play for the Queenstown based Skycity Stampede, champions of the NZ Ice Hockey League for the past three seasons.
Deanna recently had hands-on experience with visiting world-class coach, Christine Krall, who trained three-times world champion Patrick Chan. She says the seminar was inspirational, reinforcing her own commitment to the sport. “I believe skating teaches life skills – the ability to focus, develop body awareness and the strength to get up when you fall down. I love to see kids develop.”