Go figure: Summit County local Jamie Ann Chandler skates in Europe with “Holiday On Ice” tour

On Tuesday, while her mother skated behind the glass at the Stephen C. West Ice Arena in Breckenridge, Jamie Ann Chandler did the math in her head.

She was trying to calculate how many hours she spent last year in Belgium rehearsing the most difficult number she performed during the Holiday On Ice “Atlantis” tour through 46 cities in Germany and France.

It was a truly complex routine where more than two dozen skaters were costumed from head-to-toe in black, green and blue sequin fish outfits. The uniforms left little room to see surroundings on a sheet of ice that was just a quarter of the size of the Breckenridge rink Chandler is so familiar with.

“It was probably somewhere between 27 and 35 hours of just working on that program,” Chandler said. “Just the sheer amount of skaters on the ice, you have to be so careful. We are all doing everything on count. If you are late, you are probably going to run into somebody.

“You don’t know who is who anymore,” she continued, “because you are all dressed in the same fish costumes. There is black mesh covering your eyes. We had to wear these masks under our costumes to protect our show makeup. It’s hard to see, so you have to know when you are where you’re supposed to be.”

Where Chandler believes she was always supposed to be, going back to her days living with her family in Memphis, Tennessee, is out on the ice. When she was 12 years old, before her family moved to Summit County, Chandler enjoyed watching figure skating on television. But with the nearest rink three and a half hours away in Nashville, pursuing her dream wasn’t within the realm of possibility for the Chandlers.

After she found out Stephen C. West was 15 minutes from their new Breckenridge home, Chandler badgered her parents for a full year to let her try figure skating. Once she was out there on the ice, she did everything she could to become a better skater and catch up to those more typical figure skaters who started on the ice much younger.

“Most of the skaters who have gone to the Olympics started between the ages of 3 and 6,” Chandler, now 24, said. “A lot of people doubted I could do anything with it at all. I even doubted.”

Alas, only a decade after she started skating, there Chandler was last winter training with some of the world’s most talented show figure skaters in Lint, Belgium, at the massive AED studio space. She had earned the opportunity after she sent in to the Pro Skaters company her two-minute audition tape from Stephen C. West Ice Arena. It was of her figure skating and hula hoop figure skating, set to the 1985 Dead or Alive song “You Spin Me Round.”

Holiday On Ice liked Chandler’s tape so much that she became the first figure skater who originally learned her craft at Stephen C. West Ice Arena to be selected for an international show of Holiday On Ice’s caliber. For Chandler, it was a major accomplishment after she poured so much time into figure skating in Breckenridge, in Vail and while attending the University of Colorado at Boulder. Chandler also persevered despite the fact that she was and is still skating through a hip injury that will require surgery.

“I was starting double axel and triple toe and triple salchow (tricks),” Chander said. “But I busted too many times. That was two years ago. It’s never gone away, the skating through the pain. But at least it’s pretty on the outside.”

Chandler’s figure skating certainly is pretty on the outside, but it’s taken a certain grit for her to follow her dreams and advance her skills to the elite level she’s now skating at. In a town full of skiers, it’s been most always figure skating all the time for Chandler. In fact, until a jaunt up Breckenridge Ski Resort with her father last week, Chandler hadn’t downhill skied in three years. With that, she describes the kind of edge control, physics and holds in figure skating as similar to skiing. Another similarity to skiing, despite the aesthetic the sport of figure skating gives off, is the element of having the toughness to get back up after falling and accepting the reality that pain is inevitable.

Through her time skating in Breckenridge, Chandler said she’s seen the number of figure skaters at Stephen C. West fluctuate. More often than not, other figure skaters give the sport up once they reach the point of learning moves where tumbling to the ice comes with the territory of learning it the right way.

“This is not a sport for people with a low pain tolerance,” Chandler said. “It’s just not.”

Whatever pain she’s skating through, it’s certainly not noticeable once Chandler is out there stringing tricks together, such as the single axel, double salchow and double toe loop tricks she filmed in her audition tape, all while hula hooping. Chandler said she worked hard to refine and polish her skating skills in advance of that audition tape. Her goal was to prove to traveling shows like Holiday On Ice that she could connect and flow her atypical tricks with a professional level of coherence and “showiness.”

Once she arrived in Belgium last October, Chandler and the other cast members drilled daily with Robin Cousins, the principal choreographer of Holiday On Ice and a 1980 Olympic figure skating champion. Of the cast of 36, who used English as a main language to communicate, Chandler was one of nine Americans.

On Wednesday, she flew to Europe again to complete the second of her two seasons skating in “Atlantis.” This time around, the tour will travel to Germany and Austria, where she’ll reprise her roles as a magician’s assistant, an ethereal fairy, a tiger and, of course, a fish.

And when she’s back on the Holiday On Ice bus traveling from one European city to the next, she’ll be thinking of new things to knit for herself, for her friends on the tour, and for her family back home in Summit County.

“I can’t even tell you how many things I made on tour,” Chandler said. “Three hats, four headbands — I started making things for everyone on the cast when I ran out of things I needed. I made a poncho for my mom, two baby blankets and two pairs of leg warmers.”

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