Quesnel figure skating fans were treated to an impromptu viewing of a pair of Skate Canada senior ice dance champions on Dec. 23 at West Fraser Centre.
Haley Sales, who grew up in Quesnel, and her ice dance partner Nikolas Wamsteeker were visiting Sales’ family in Quesnel for Christmas, and needed ice time over the holiday to continue to train for the National Skating Championships, which take place Jan. 8-14 in Vancouver.
Locals were invited to come out to watch the pair practice, and seats in the arena began to fill up as the skaters worked through their program for Nationals.
What appeared effortless on the ice is actually the result of months of hard work, and Haley and Nik seem excited to be competing in Nationals again this year, their second time in the senior category.
“We will be competing in the short program and the free skate in senior ice dance,” says Nik.
“And depending how we do, we will also skate in the gala,” adds Haley.
“We skated in it last year and it was a lot of fun.”
After Christmas in Quesnel, the pair returned to Vancouver, where they live and train, to continue with a week of practice. Since the competition is in Vancouver this year, they also attended a simulation of the event at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre, where the championships will take place.
“The competition is always in Montreal or Ottawa, so it’s an honour to have it in Vancouver this time,” says Haley.
“It’s great that family from here is able to come and see us perform.”
Much of Haley’s family is still in Quesnel, and Nik grew up in Langley, so they’ll have plenty of B.C. fans cheering them on next week.
The 21-year-olds have been skating together for four years, after Haley moved from women’s singles to pairs. Nik has been part of a pair since he was 12.
“Nik’s my only skating partner. Spending 7 or more hours together a day… it’s a lot of work. You really have to get along,” explains Haley.
“Our first year together was rocky, getting to know each other. But it’s really good now,” Nik laughs – something proven by his presence at the Sales’ Christmas celebrations in Quesnel, somewhere Nik had never been.
“I like Quesnel! It’s very relaxing after Vancouver. And it’s exciting to have the snow for Christmas,” he says.
Competition at Nationals will be fierce, but Haley and Nik say they are ready for the challenge, and have been working on what they call “feeling the moment” this season.
“We have been really trying to tell the story more than previous years,” explains Haley.
“When we started dancing together, we were very techinical. So now we are trying to put across more of the love story of the dance, and falling in love with the music.”
The pair say that their move from the junior to the senior team last year changed this focus.
“Junior is very technical. You have to skate very clean with your elements to win. Whereas someone who knows how to dance and put across a performance, and connect with the crowd and their partner, is going to do better in senior than a technically amazing team,” says Haley.
“Junior was a lot more competitive; it’s about athletics, where senior is more about the art,” agrees Nik.
In this vein, after their training session at West Fraser Centre on Dec. 23, the pair walked across to Rink 2 to teach a seminar to eager young Quesnel Figure Skating Club members.
“It’s really fun to be able to do this,” says Haley.
“This hour will be about feeling the moment. We have really focused on what that means to us, and how to portray that on the ice. It means a ton of things. It’s not the technical side. It’s drawing people into your story.”
With Nationals just around the corner, Haley and Nik are focused on their goals.
“Nationals is a decider if we are going to Four Continents [Figure Skating Championships], which is an international event. The top teams at Nationals will go. We are sitting in fifth, so we are planning to go; that’s the goal,” says Haley.
Four Continents takes place in Taipei from Jan. 22-28. Nik says he loves the travel they get to do for international competitions. This season they have also competed in Lake Placid, New York, and Germany.
Haley and Nik are also alternates for the Olympic skating team, so Haley says whatever the outcome of the impending competitions, they’ll continue to train into March 2018.
And are the Olympics the ultimate goal?
The pair nod.
“We know we won’t go this year, but we are still young. The top teams are 28 and older, so we have time,” say Nik.
“We are still the youngest on the senior team.”
Haley states their ambitions succinctly: “We are shooting for the 2022 Olympics.”
After watching them practice and then coach Quesnel’s youth, the pair’s passion for the sport comes through.
From Jan. 8, many in Quesnel – Sales’ family, young Quesnel skaters and other figure skating fans – will have their eyes on a homegrown star and her partner, wishing them the best of luck at Nationals, and beyond.