Roller Skating vs. Ice Skating: What are the Differences?

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Ice skating and roller skating exist as distant cousins. Sometimes participating in one leads skaters to cross over to the other.

These two sports have been a favorite global pastime for a century or better. They are closely connected in some ways, yet far different in others.

Roller skating is generally used as aerobic activity or a fun hobby for a wide demographic. You can enjoy roller skating on a variety of terrains, including concrete, asphalt, and wood. Rougher terrains can be used as skating surfaces, although not as efficiently or as smooth.

Ice skating is also a modern popular extreme sport enjoyed by children and adults. If participants want to skate outside, a cold climate is needed that normally only the winter season can provide. It must be cold enough outside for water to freeze over to a thick enough level to safely skate on.

Presently there are indoor ice skating rinks that can be enjoyed year-round. The icy surface is commonly treated and smoothed over to limit accidents and slowdowns.

Both of these sports require physical prowess, albeit on different levels. Even the equipment used is similar, with the top portion of each skate being nearly identical.

Ice skating and roller skating even both have professional versions of their respective disciplines. The former has speed skating, figure skating, and ice hockey, and the latter has the roller derby world. The events in the roller derby scene may not be as popular as Olympic skating, but still a pro sport nonetheless.

This article will analyze the differences between these two sports and examine some of their similarities. We’ll go in-depth regarding the origins of each sport as well.

If you’re a fan of roller skating or like to ice skate, keep reading for our ice skating vs. roller skating guide.

Table of Contents

The Origins of the Ice Skate

Earlier, when we said both sports had been around for a century, that may have been an understatement for ice skating. Ice skating has possibly been in existence for millennia.

Researchers have discovered evidence that shows ice skating could have been born in Finland nearly 4,000 years ago. The earliest ice skates were fashioned to conserve energy during long winter journeys as an alternative to walking.

When the earliest skates were used, the bottom blade was formed from animal bones. The hobby wasn’t officially crowned with its current name until steel blades were fashioned.

In the 1400s, ice skating became popular in the Netherlands as a hobby for all classes. Artisans began making the blades out of steel and attaching them to cloth shoes.

The popularity of the hobby exploded globally in the 1600s and 1700s when King James II brought the sport to his native country. It quickly spread to Scotland and Rome.

In the late 1700s and into the 1800s, ice skating became an official sport. Participants started to incorporate spins into their routine, and judges would rate their maneuvers.

Eventually, ice hockey was born, which uses ice skates. The sport of competition skating blossomed into the juggernaut as we know it today with yearly professional competitions and Olympic matches. Ice hockey is also a major global sport.

Origins of Roller Skates

Roller skating started in performing arts in the 1700s. The hobby began in Europe, with many actors and artists using them in musical and dance performances.

Many historians speculate that the artists did this to emulate ice skating on stage. The earliest skates had a design more similar to rollerblades.

There was one wheel in the front, and one in the back, with a flat deck area in the middle where the user’s feet were strapped. Both of the wheels were exceptionally large, which made for a very awkward look. Turning and maneuvering were very difficult, and revisions didn’t come until the middle 1800s.

Waitresses began using rollerskates to serve their customers at beer halls in Berlin, Germany, in 1840. This tradition is still in use today in America and other countries.

In 1863, the modern roller skate design was born, which made it much easier to skate. Roller skating boomed in the very late 1800s and into the early 1900s.

The sport witnessed a decline until the 1940s and 50s when America had a roller skating craze. This period was known as the “Golden Age” of roller skating.

Eventually, roller skating would lead to rollerblading in the 1980s, which gained massive popularity into the 1990s. Roller skating is still considered one of the number one hobbies for all ages across the globe.

Comparing Roller Skating vs. Ice Skating

Throwing on a pair of ice skates or inline skates might begin in a similar fashion, but after that, these two hobbies begin to vary greatly. Let’s examine some of the specifics involved with these two sports.

Techniques of Roller Skating and Ice Skating

Many people believe that the techniques of roller skating and ice skating are identical. Even though the shape and style of their respective equipment are similar, minus the blade and wheels, and the motions look similar, the techniques are entirely different.

Stopping on Ice Skates and Inline Skates

When you’re roller skating, there are several different ways to stop. Some roller skates have a rubber knob positioned on the front or back of the shoe that’s used to assist with braking. The knob is also used to help with balance when a skater is required to walk instead of roll.

When a skater wants to stop, they slowly point the toe of one foot downward, making contact with the ground. The rubber knob generates friction, ultimately causing the skater to come to a complete stop.

Another way roller skaters can stop is by taking a knee. While they’re in motion, a skater can bend one knee while keeping the other leg outstretched normally. As the knee slowly touches the ground, the skater will slowly come to a halt.

The final way for a skater to stop is using a technique that requires them to make a T-shape with their skates. This is also a technique used by rollerbladers.

After the skater begins slowing down, one foot is picked up and perpendicularly placed behind the other. The skater slowly lowers the back foot, allowing it to drag the ground and reduce their speed.

Ice skates don’t have any sort of built-in component that can be used for braking. Skaters turn their bodies slightly and distribute their weight evenly between their back and front. They must carefully turn their front skate sideways. After this directional change, the skater must slowly distribute more weight onto the sideways skate, which generates enough resistance to slow them down. 

The downside of this is if they dig in too hard, they could go tumbling head-over-feet. Ice skaters must maintain careful balance and weight distribution while attempting to brake.

Differences in Skating Surface

On a skating rink, roller skaters have a smooth wooden skating surface to skate on that is kept clean by workers at the facility. There are hardly any hazards involved when participating in skating at a public rink. Workers also remove any surface roller skating tracks that leave skid marks or grease spots.

However, when roller skaters are engaged in skating outside on concrete or asphalt, they must be careful of cracks and other hazards. Luckily, roller skaters are equipped with larger wheels that can roll over smaller pieces of debris.

Ice skaters normally participate on an ice surface in outdoor or indoor public ice rinks. These are similar to roller skating rinks; only the surface is ice instead of wood. The ice surface is also kept very well-maintained and smooth to ensure skater safety. The machines that smooth the surface allow you to skate across the ice nicely and perform various ice skating maneuvers.

Sometimes ice skaters will skate in lakes and ponds during the wintertime with an ice surface frozen over enough to skate on. It’s important that the ice is thick enough to hold weight safely; otherwise, it could crack and lead to a deadly situation.

On natural lakes and ponds, skaters must remain vigilant for things like sticks, twigs, and rocks that could lie in their path. Normally there is no professional on hand to keep the pond or lake clear of obstacles.


One would assume that balancing on ice skates and roller skaters are very similar and take the same amount of skill. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Ice skating requires balancing that is much tougher than roller skates. When you’re on roller skates, you have four wheels with a large surface contacting the ground, leading to greater levels of stability and coordination.

On ice skates, you only have a thin section of the blade to stand on. The blade is no larger than a quarter-inch in width, leaving a skater with hardly any contact with the ice. The skate doesn’t dig deep enough into the ice to create a divot that would assist with balance.

Health Benefits

The health benefits of ice skating are very similar to those of roller skating. Let’s examine some of the fitness highlights of each of these sports.

·         Both roller skating and ice skating provide a great deal of cardio activity. Rigorous motion is required that leads to an increased heart rate, which constitutes a cardio workout. Both sports are also beneficial to the respiratory system.

·         They both use plenty of leg muscles. The glutes, calves, and hamstrings are all engaged nearly the whole time during both of these hobbies. Regular skaters of both disciplines usually have incredible muscle definition in their legs.

·         The core can also be exercised, specifically when skaters squat to help brake or perform specific maneuvers. When players return to their feet after falling or resting, it also takes a strong core to lift the body back to the standing position.

·         The biceps and triceps are also exercised. Skaters use their arms in a swinging motion to gain momentum, which leads to a moderate workout.

Another element these two sports have in common is the fact they both have pro versions of the sport reserved for highly talented skaters.

There are different leagues and levels of ice skating with varying degrees of competition. There is speed skating and figure skating. One is a display of how graceful a skater can be, and the other is pure, lightning-fast speed. There is also ice hockey, which requires players to move on ice skates. Even though ice hockey incorporates other elements into the sport, it still requires a very talented skater.

Roller skating’s version of pro-competition may not be nearly as popular or world-renowned as ice skating but still exists. Roller derby is a brutally competitive sport that pits skaters against one another, attempting to take each other out with violent maneuvers. The skaters use a circular track to skate around while attempting to knock one another out of the game.


Ice skating and roller skating are very similar in certain ways, allowing participants to carry over certain disciplines from one sport to the other. However, there are enough differences to require a different variety of training for newcomers to each sport.

Regardless of their differences, both of these sports require a great deal of physical coordination and balance. Any participant in either of these hobbies should take great pride in mastering the discipline, as it takes a great deal of persistence and determination.