Why the Magnolia Open is special to Atlanta figure skaters

Every March in Alpharetta, more than 150 skaters—most of them under 18—participate in the event, hosted by the Atlanta Figure Skating Club

Figure skating Magnolia Open

Photograph by David Madison / Getty Images

The first time Heather Stables laced up to perform in the Magnolia Open, she free-skated to a tango. Stables won her category—by default, because her competitor dropped out. Still, her 2013 experience at Atlanta’s local figure skating event set her up for years of medaling across the Southeast, and last year she placed fourth in the Championship Adult Silver Women’s Free Skate at Adult Nationals. “Magnolia Open was my very first skating competition and, a few years later, the first where my now-husband got to see me compete,” she says. “It definitely holds a special place in my memories.”

The Magnolia Open is one of two local U.S. Figure Skating qualifier events that the Atlanta Figure Skating Club hosts. Every March at Alpharetta’s rink, the Cooler, more than 150 skaters—most of them under 18—participate in the Magnolia Open in categories like European waltz, hoedown variation, and, of course, free skate. There are 300 total events in the Open, which takes place March 8–10. “It’s ideal for the skater who’s probably not going to make it to nationals, but it strengthens their confidence to have spectators and get a score,” says Catherine Hackney, the club’s president and an Open judge.

Adults like Stables compete with no national stakes on the line. Stables got on the ice just 13 years ago. She grew up dancing but started skating only as an adult to keep active, and soon fell in love with the camaraderie and challenge. “I danced for over 15 years and almost never got to take the stage by myself,” she says. “It blew my mind that I could just sign up for a skating competition and get the opportunity to perform my own program.”

Creating a community is one goal of the 69-year-old club. Whether they do theatrical skating or team events, anyone at any age can skate, or learn how through Aspire programs. Atlanta has a robust skating scene but only five metro-area rinks, with many skaters driving 40 minutes or more to do their crossovers. Still, the experience makes it worth it. “You love the gliding and the feel of the air,” Hackney says. “There’s just something magical about skating.”

This article appears in our March 2024 issue.