Aspen ice skater wins first national title | AspenTimes.com

Aspen ice skater wins first national title

Aspen High School freshman Klara Belle Kowar nearly didn't go to nationals. The time and money commitment, along with the uncertainty of success, made the decision difficult to make.

And it had been a decision the young ice skater had been forced to grapple with all competition season, having to choose between bigger out-of-state events and smaller, local qualifiers.

"Being the first year Belle was doing this, we decided to choose that option, to just see how it would go," said Bonnie Kowar, Klara's mother. "We were looking at the dollars and the cents. Do we travel during the season to have a greater likelihood of qualifying for nationals?"

Klara remained mostly in state, and despite this, still qualified for September's 2016 National Solo Dance Final, held at the University of Delaware in Newark. The family made the decision to travel east for the United States Figure Skating Association competition, and it paid off.

Competing at nationals for the first time, Klara won a national championship in juvenile free dance and took third in bronze pattern dance.

"It was exciting. I got really nervous, but I tried not to think about it," Klara said. "I was very nervous going into it, but after I competed a little bit, I just kind of relaxed and had fun."

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Unlike traditional figure skating, which involves lots of jumping, Klara's form of ice skating is more of a dance, sans the aerials. She began figure skating when she was only 3, something she first tried alongside her older sister. Unfortunately, she developed knee problems from the consistent training and jumping on the ice, and had to switch over to the dance side of ice skating.

"I was forced into it because it was less painful on the knees. But then I learned to like it," Klara said. "It's challenging and it's fun to overcome the challenges and the feeling of accomplishment."

Klara has long trained with the Aspen Skating Club, coached by Teri Hooper. The competition season begins each March and concludes in the fall. This was the first season Klara had competed on this level.

"She always loved it. And she's a natural on the ice. She has beautiful extension and lines," Bonnie said. "It's a big deal to win a national title in anything. But Belle, she is very modest. She is not going to run around telling people here at the high school."

Klara competed at the bronze level — there aren't necessarily age groups in ice skating — and will start working at a higher level in the spring, such as pre-silver and silver. This will involve more technical dances and moves.

She still can compete solo for many years, but at the highest level, including at the Olympics, it becomes mostly a partnered event. Unfortunately for Klara, she is currently the only dance skater in Aspen, while the rest are figure skaters. Should she want to continue long term, finding a partner would be a necessary goal.

Until then, a return to nationals next year at a higher level is what her focus is now. Klara also works with Carol Fox, a Denver-based coach who competed in the 1984 Olympics, and was able to train with Scott Gregory, a two-time Olympian, while at nationals in Delaware.

There, she battled through two qualifying rounds, which took the bronze-level field from near 20 skaters to 10, with the finals being a one-run affair. The juvenile free dance involved the skaters dancing to their own choreographed routine, while the pattern dance required the skaters to perform a pre-determined set of moves.

"There is a huge emphasis on the artistry; the positioning of the arms, wrists, hands, fingers, legs, pointing of the toes," Bonnie said of Klara's form of skating. "Belle stayed very focused and very composed. I was really proud of her for that. She stayed really calm and in her zone."

The medals Klara brought home have been added to an assortment of nearly 100 others she has won over the years.

acolbert@aspentimes.com