By ROBIN SIAS
For the Express
Nicole Pratt pinches herself every Saturday night as she puts the finishing touches on her hair and makeup, checks her costume in the mirror and steps out into the lights as a member of the ensemble in Sun Valley on Ice.
"Seeing the crowd, hearing the crowd and skating outside next to the Lodge, it doesn't even seem real," she said while smiling her high-wattage smile.
A rising senior at Wood River High School, Pratt is one of six current ensemble cast skaters who grew up with stars in their eyes, rink-side on Saturday nights, dreaming of being part of the big show.
Pratt, 17, started lessons in Sun Valley at the age of 4. As a child, she skated in the children's numbers in the long-running Saturday night ice shows, performing, she recalled, "Tiki numbers in costumes where my belly showed."
During those years, she always looked up to the older girls who were so talented and glamorous.
"It's amazing being the older one now," Pratt said. "I remember so clearly being a little girl and watching the older skaters perform in the finale. I couldn't believe how accomplished and professional they were. Now the little girls come to me and tell me that I'm pretty and they want to skate like I do. It surprises me every time and it means so much."
When she was too old to skate with the children's group, Pratt continued her weekly pilgrimages to the show. For years, she and her mother ran the snack bar sponsored by the Sun Valley Figure Skating Club. Once the line for hot chocolate died down, she watched the show from backstage. Last year, she was finally old enough to perform in the shows again.
Another ensemble skater, Ali Butler, 22, also grew up at the ice show. Butler started skating with the Sun Valley Figure Skating Club at the age of 7 and became a serious skater in middle school.
This 2008 graduate of Wood River High School now lives in San Francisco, but loves coming home to do the shows.
"I grew up watching the performances," she said. "I vividly remember Gia Guddat's choreography from when I was little. At that time, each show had a theme. The one I loved best was 'Moulin Rouge.' I always wanted to be a part of it."
As a young skater, Butler performed in the Christmas Eve ice show and club shows, as well as competed at the highest levels, but it wasn't until she joined the ensemble that she first skated with the show.
"I love being part of the tradition," she said. "Being able to connect with the audience and skate under the stars is something I dreamed of. Now I get to do it every Saturday night."
Guddat, who choreographs Sun Valley on Ice, looks forward to working with the skaters she has known since childhood.
"I enjoy choreographing programs that bring out the skaters' unique personalities," she said. "This helps them stand out and make an impression on the audience. Our local girls learn from a young age what it takes to be in a show by watching the rehearsals and seeing how the choreography comes together. They also learn how much work it takes to make it look easy."
College student Clare King, like Pratt, sampled the show as a schoolgirl and returned to skate professionally this summer.
Three local high school girls are also in this year's production: Shayna Moellenberg, a rising 11th-grader at the Community School, and Gracie Eagan and Telar McClure who will be seniors this fall at Wood River High School.
Eagan and McClure joined the show for the first time this summer in "swing" roles. That means that if another ensemble skater is injured or unavailable to skate, they get to perform.
At 9, Eagan began skating in Sun Valley and never missed a show that featured Sasha Cohen, her skating idol.
"Having grown up watching so many shows, it's something else to get to be in it and rehearse among the stars," Eagan said with a smile. "We're having so much fun."
"Last week I was in rehearsals with Evan Lysacek and Ashley Wagner," she said, beaming. "They were so encouraging and supportive, normal and nice."
Ice shows are what compelled McClure to begin skating in Sun Valley at age 5. With a summer birthday, her yearly celebration was tickets to the ice show.
"Seeing the show and the amazing skaters made me want to pursue figure skating," she said.
Though it's a big commitment to be there for every rehearsal and every Saturday night, McClure said it's worth it.
"Skating with all the pros is pushing me to be a better skater and work even harder," she explained.
Though she and Eagan have yet to perform in a show this year, it looks likely that they will get their chance in August.
"I don't know if it will even seem real to actually go out in front of the crowd," she said, "but I can't wait to find out."
Moellenberg, whose mother is a figure-skating coach in Arizona, first saw the Sun Valley ice show as a 9-year-old when she was in town for the summer competition. Currently the Northwest Pacific senior silver medalist, and highest ranking member of the Sun Valley Figure Skating Club, Moellenberg trains hours and hours each day to prepare for competitions.
Performing in Sun Valley on Ice lets her hone her skills, but also allows her to really enjoy her skating without awaiting judges' results.
"I always wanted to be up there when I saw the shows when I was little," she said "It's wonderful to perform under the spotlight and share the ice with all the pros. Skating in the show was always a dream of mine."
This is Moellenberg's second summer in the ensemble.
All the girls said they love the routines, the costumes, the lights and the crowd. And there is a real sense of camaraderie among them.
"We're all really close," Pratt said. "We have a great time. Every Saturday night before the show, we have dinner and get ready together."
Performing in the ice show is a rite of passage, and this group of local girls joins hundreds of skaters who have wowed Sun Valley crowds since the days of Averell Harriman. When the music swells, the spotlights color the ice and the crowd begins to cheer, the joy and possibility on the faces of the ensemble skaters shine as bright as the stars overheard.
"The summer shows have inspired many locals to become performers," Guddat said. "They start out in the kids number when they are little and cute but soon realize that if they work hard enough, one day they can be in the ensemble. They see their friends moving up the ladder into the show, which really motivates them to work hard.
"Many local skaters have gone on to have show-skating careers and win national showcase titles. We're really proud of all of them."