When you're thinking about buying a pair of ice skates, it's important to first define what kind of skating you plan to do. Just as the word "ball" can mean any one of a hundred different kinds of balls, the term "ice skates" encompasses boots with ice blades for playing hockey, racing, figure skating and ice dancing, or simple recreational skating. Different skates are designed for each of these kinds of activities.
Figure skates are designed with a very stiff boot so that the foot and ankle are well supported when a skater jumps or spins on the ice. Lack of support from the boot can cause a skater's foot and ankle to twist on landing, which can cause injury.
Although it is difficult to see the difference from a distance, the heel of a high quality figure skate will be made of leather, rather than the wood usually found on recreational skates. Leather provides a more resilient cushion when the skater's weight lands on one foot.
Hockey and racing skates do not feature the kind of built-up heel you will find on a figure skate. These boots generally have a flatter sole.
Figure skates all have prominent toe picks, the jagged part of the blade that permits a skater to "dig in" to the ice when jumping or pivoting. Racing and hockey skates have no toe picks, because these skaters do not perform these maneuvers. Recreational skates will have slightly smaller, less sharp toe picks.
Because they are manufactured from heavy leather, figure skates are often much heavier than skates designed for hockey, racing or simple recreational skating. Several skate makers are now designing recreational ice skates from plastic, vinyl, soft leather or heavy canvas, all of which are lighter and usually more comfortable for simple ice skating activities. The break-in period for soft skates is usually very short or nonexistent. Soft ice skates also have more internal room for extra padding for warmth and comfort on the ice.
All ice skates will be available in various inexpensive to high-quality versions. Beginner and simple recreational skates usually come with metal blades attached. Skates intended for more advanced skaters are usually sold without blades, as advanced skaters in any ice sport want to choose their blades and have them professionally mounted on their skate boots.
All ice skate blades must be sharpened occasionally. Dull blades will not perform well on the ice. Someone who has been skating with rented skates will be surprised at the improved performance when first taking to the ice on well-sharpened blades. Blades should be sharpened by a professional. Blade-sharpening is not a do-it-yourself endeavor.