Vail Skating Festival summer camp teams up with Gracie Gold

Olympic champion Nathan Chen will perform at Festival's Dec. 23 show

Gracie Gold is back in Vail for the five-day Road to Gold skating camp.
Sam Atagana Photography/Courtesy photo

Eddie Shipstad’s goal of “bringing great figure skating back to Vail,” is right on track.

The Vail Skating Festival producer collaborated with Olympian Gracie Gold’s Road to Gold training camps to host Destination Vail, a four-day training camp enjoyed by approximately 80 youth and adult skaters from July 27-31 at Dobson Arena.

“It was a fantastic camp,” Shipstad said. The third-generation ice show visionary and five-time U.S. national competitor is thrilled about what the Vail Skating Festival has to offer in its fifth season.

“This year is absolutely our best year,” he commented. The Festival consists of a summer camp, five free 20-minute Saturday night shows from Thanksgiving to Christmas, and the Ice Spectacular, a paid event on Dec. 23 at Dobson Arena Two weeks ago, Shipstad secured 2022 Olympic gold medalist Nathan Chen for the Christmas Eve ‘eve’ finale.

“We are really pumped about that,” he said.

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“It’s incredible to get him for this.”

The Road to Gold

Road to Gold partnered with the Vail Skating Festival to create an unforgettable training experience in Vail July 27-31. Internationally known coaches and athletes provided instruction throughout the four days.
Sam Atagana Photography/Courtesy photo

With the U.S. championship qualification process requiring national-caliber athletes to begin competing in earnest for points starting in July, Shipstad knew his camp, which in the past has catered primarily to upper echelon skaters — two years ago, 20 of the 32 participants were Team USA members or top international athletes — would have to tailor its approach in 2022.

“These skaters are competing a lot more, so we couldn’t really gear it for the super elites like we’d had in the past,” he explained.

“I felt like with that, we needed to bring in more of a grassroots level.”

Enter Gracie Gold, whose resume and background form the perfect bridge from the innocent beginner youth to the seasoned Olympic hopeful.

The Vail Skating Festival summer camp included two days of clinics for youth and two days for adult skaters.
Sam Atagana Photography/Courtesy photo

“Boy, I think she’s seen it all,” Shipstad said when asked what Gold provides in regards to the camp’s vision.

Gold won a bronze medal in the team competition and was fourth in the individual event at the 2014 Olympics. At the 2016 World Championships, she recorded the highest short program score ever by an American woman, the same year she won her second U.S. national title.

Her 2017 and 2018 seasons, however, were marked by struggles with anxiety, depression and an eating disorder, and she failed to make the PyeongChang Olympic squad. Her 2022 comeback attempt included an emotional short program performance at U.S. nationals, though it ultimately was not enough to qualify for the Beijing Olympic team.

“Just dealing with being successful, struggling and then getting over that,” Shipstad described of the 26-year-old’s career.

“I think she is very open with the skaters and parents and coaches with what she’s learned from the sport, both good and bad, and makes it a real positive for the athletes.”

Gracie Gold won a bronze medal at the 2014 Olympics and was a two-time U.S. champion.
Sam Atagana Photography/Courtesy photo

Shipstad was once a guest coach at a Road to Gold camp and was blown away with everything from the pricing to the organization, off-ice activities and athlete/coach talks.

“No other camp has been better,” he said. “I just felt like it was a really fantastic product.”

Of course, the setting provided an additional boost in more ways than just mountain views walking to Dobson.

“Vail gives them so many great things,” Shipstad lauded. The Steadman Clinic provided a one-hour tour for participants which included a talk on boot and foot issues from sports foot and ankle specialist Dr. Thomas Haytmanek. The Vail Dance Festival also offered participants and their families the student rate for show tickets on Friday and Saturday.

“Getting to see the New York Ballet on Saturday night was incredible,” Shipstad said.

“That’s not something everybody gets to see, so coming to Vail gives you those kinds of great opportunities.”

Shipstad said his highlight, however, was seeing Gold interact with the younger generation.

“It was very powerful seeing Gracie talk with the kids off the ice,” he said.

“I think it’s an amazing experience for them to work with her and receive her technical knowledge on the ice. But then being able to sit in the stands and ask her questions about her journey in the sport, I thought was really positive.”

Gold also spoke directly to parents in a talk titled “What every parent should know about skating.”

“It was a very open conversation,” described Shipstad.

“She talked through what role she feels the parent should have and how they need to be supportive.”

In addition to Gold, the camp included a lineup of established international elite coaches, including Team USA coach and Olympic choreographer Drew Meekins, James Hernandez, an international ice dancer from England, Ilona Melnichenko, an international coach and choreographer, and Road to Gold’s director, Amy Fankhauser. Shipstad himself is also a world and master-rated coach.

The camp consisted of two-days of youth programming followed by two days for adults. While the prime age for skaters at the Olympic level is anywhere from the early-teens to mid-20s, Shipstad said there is a growing community of national level master’s competitors, too.

“There’s a whole ‘hash-tag adults skate, too,’ out there,” he laughed.

“It’s a sport you can do your entire life. It’s amazing how many people were competitive as kids, and then they took 10, 20, 30, 40 years off — we had two in the camp who were 69 and 70. We have people who absolutely love the sport and it’s great to see them get back involved.”

Synchronized skating, which involves little to no jumping and includes 16-20 athletes creating formations on the ice, is gaining in popularity at the master’s level as well. “That’s a huge part of our sport right now,” Shipstad noted.

International coach and choreographer Ilona Melnichenko organized a number for the adults to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” to close the camp.

“It was fantastic — it was awesome,” Shipstad described.

“It was the best experience and the most organized the camp has been,” he continued, noting it was also the highest attendance. The camp grew from a two-and-a-half day event in the past to four this year, and Shipstad hopes to extend it to a week in the future.

“I do feel like next year we will incorporate an even more competitive track than we’ve had in past years along with the youth and adult camps,” he said.

“So that’s what we’re shooting for.”

Nathan Chen chooses Vail

Jay Adeff/Courtesy photo
Nathan Chen, the 2022 Olympic gold medalist, will headline the Vail Skating Festival’s 2022 Ice Spectacular at Dobson Arena on Dec. 23.
Jay Adeff/Courtesy photo

In 1936, Shipstad’s grandfather, also Eddie, started the first ever traveling ice show, “Shipstad and Johnson Ice Follies

In the late 80s, Shipstad’s dad was the manager of Dobson Arena and organized the Scott Hamilton Christmas Party in Vail every year.

Alexa Knierim and Chris Knierim are just a few of the elite skaters who have graced Dobson Arena’s ice at Vail Skating Festival shows.
Vail Skating Festival/Courtesy photo

“For me, I wanted to bring back great figure skating to Vail,” the youngest Shipstad said. “It’s been a process.”

Mirai Nagasu, the first female to land a triple axel in Olympic competition, is set to perform at Dobson Arena on Dec. 23.
Vail Skating Festival/Courtesy photo

Over the last five years, three-time world champion Patrick Chan has been the star, with notable guest appearances from the likes of Jeremy Abbott and Mirai Nagasu, the first U.S. woman to land a triple axel in Olympic competition. This year’s marquee player, however, trumps all.

“To get Nathan Chen to come up to Vail, especially in a small venue — he doesn’t do those small events,” Shipstad said of the 2022 headliner.

“Honestly, the intimate setting of Dobson Arena and Nathan Chen doing one of his Olympic programs is pretty outstanding.”

It will be the only Colorado visit for the 2022 Olympic gold medalist, who is returning to Yale this fall to study after taking the last couple of years off to prepare for Beijing. Shipstad said that the 350 ice-level seats at Dobson provide a close-up view comparable to NBA courtside seats: the reality of the world-class athleticism on stage hits the senses at full force.

“There’s no other place to see live skating like that. If somebody does a triple or quad jump, you feel them hit the ice,” he gushed.

“It’s incredible.”

2022 Ice Spectacular – Dec. 23 at Dobson Arena

The 70-minute show will feature four current Olympians:

  • Nathan Chen (2022 Olympic champion)
  • Mirai Nagasu (2018 Olympic team bronze medalist; in 2008, became the youngest U.S. champion since Tara Lipinski)
  • Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker (2022 Olympic ice dancers)

Other athletes of note:

  • Audrey Shin (Team USA athlete)
  • Tomoki Hiwatashi (Team USA athlete/World Junior Champion)

Tickets will go on sale within the next two weeks. Visit for more information

While Chen, whom Shipstad said is retired from the highest levels of competition, won’t perform his famed quad jumps that immortalized him in the halls of Olympic greats, viewers can expect world-class speed, artistry and amplitude as he performs “tons of triples” to Elton John’s “Rocketman,” the program which sealed his legacy in Beijing.

“He will definitely come to Vail prepared,” assured Shipstad.

“He’s an accomplished pianist, he’s going to Yale … he’s still going to keep up his skating aspects to bring it,” he continued.

“That’s just in his nature. He has always been one of those who does everything 100%.”

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