Prince George officially became home base of the Northern B.C. Centre for Skating on Tuesday.
The centre, which held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Elksentre, is designed to provide local and regional figure skaters the resources they need to reach the pinnacle of their sport, all without having to move to places like Vancouver or Calgary.
"It's all about specialization," said Rory Allen, the centre's director of skating. "The main difference is that we've got program managers for each level and those program managers also specialize in specific elements. When they specialize in specific elements, you see an increase in the quality, where we can be provincially and nationally at the same standard [as bigger cities]."
The Northern B.C. Centre for Skating was formerly known as the Spruce City Skating Club. The name change happened in April, after Spruce City was deemed to have met the standards set forth by the B.C./Yukon section of Skate Canada.
"We've been building up to this grand opening ever since," said Allen, a former national-calibre skater.
Allen said the centre will bring together about 300 skaters and eight coaches, two more than last season. New coaches for 2012-13 are off-ice instructor Sufey Chen, who specializes in yoga, and on-ice instructor Wendy Berezowsky, whose area of expertise is spins. A full support staff has also been put in place and the centre will feature nine junior coaches, who will receive their training at a certification program in October.
Ideally, Allen said skaters will now be able to train in Prince George long-term, even once they graduate from high school. In past years, it was common for the Spruce City club to lose athletes to Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and even Kelowna, which has a Centre of Excellence.
"It took around five years to get the Kelowna centre really producing at a national level and an international level," Allen said. "For us, we're trying to follow similar models but also create something that's truly northern."
Last season, the Spruce City Skating Club and the Prince George Figure Skating Club were encouraged by Skate Canada to join forces and form the Northern B.C. Centre for Skating. But the clubs -- long-time rivals -- failed to reach an agreement on a merger. In the aftermath, some PGFSC coaches and athletes moved to Spruce City's Elksentre location to become part of the Northern B.C. Centre for Skating.
Allen and PGFSC president Janice Akerley cited philosophical differences in the collapse of negotiations.
"There were several complications in the development of the plan to move forward," Akerley said.
"It was the different operating philosophies of both clubs that made it a little bit difficult."
Akerley said a couple coaches have returned to the Prince George club and a new coach has also joined. She added that this season is shaping up as a healthy one for the club.
"We did our annual Back on Your Blades seminar [Tuesday] and it was very well-attended," Akerley said. "We were very pleased with the turnout."