Autumn Classic International, also known as the event where you are lucky enough to be graced with the skating of our beloved pumpkin king, Harry Mattick
This is my third year in a row attending ACI and coming here has genuinely become one of my favorite traditions in my own life as a skating fan, from the sleep-deprived crafting shenanigans to the relaxed vibe, thrilling and deep field debuting their programs, and the chance to see so many beloved friends and make new ones.
A glamourous tourist destination, Oakville, Ontario is sadly not, but the skating more than makes up for it. It is an unassuming distant suburb of Toronto, filled with rows of unnervingly identical houses and the true MVP of the event: the Fortino’s supermarket across the street from the rink which serves as the unofficial caterer of any ACI attendee because thankfully none of the organizers care if you jaunt into the rink carrying a bag of outside food. Pro tip, the sandwich and soup combination is delicious and offers a huge variety to keep your taste buds entertained.
If ACI does return to Oakville in the coming years, I highly recommend booking an Airbnb in the neighborhood by the rink. I’ve stayed in one the last two years and not only are they very affordable and comfortable but being a 2-3 min drive from the rink and a 10-15 min walk is an absolute lifesaver, especially if you fancy lining up early to snatch specific seats for the day. But they do go extremely fast so book as soon as the venue gets announced. Also having a car is extremely handy if possible (because isolated suburbia) but you can get to the rink by bus or Uber if need be.
One thing that was really salient this time around was how much the organizers had learned from the challenges of hosting ACI last year: the benefits of experience! There were signs translated into Japanese at the railings, groups were only allowed in incrementally to get seats, queues were much better managed, the seats directly next to the athletes’ entrance were blocked off, and everything in general was much more orderly. We even got a food stand inside the rink this time, and though the quality was dicey it’s hard to beat queueing for coffee with a judge’s side view of ice dance!
In comparison to the other ACIs I’ve been to this one was shockingly chill, thanks to having over 20 entries and one fewer discipline than previous years. I glanced at the schedule and almost keeled over in relief when I saw some days would literally be 8-10 hours shorter at the rink than in 2017 and 2018. The fields were so deep but because events were much shorter most of the audience could stay for all the events. This really made an impact. The crowd was so supportive and enthusiastic for all the disciplines and skaters and it was really touching to see that kind of exuberant support for everyone competing. Also if you want to wave banners or take photos while cheering, invest in a clapper! Gabb brought them along and they’re truly the best prop for all your obnoxious multitasking cheering needs.
Eunsoo Lim is one of the few skaters I adore whom I hadn’t seen live yet so I was really excited to see her at last. It wasn’t the smoothest outing but I was so happy she podiumed and her tango short program really suits her!
Mae is also always such a joy to see and both her programs for this year have so much energy! She sold every moment of them to the crowd!
Meanwhile Kailani casually strolled up and won Ladies costumes for the entire weekend. Her short program in particular is so flirty and playful, I could watch her perform it all day.
I was overjoyed to see Karen Chen again too after missing her sitting out last season due to injury. I was worried if she’d actually be able to make it to her assigned competitions this year as well, but she looked in fantastic form and her skating truly has that charismatic inimitable quality that just seizes your attention and twines around your heart. I can’t wait to see her again in a few weeks at Skate America!
The Ladies podium was such a cute trio! Although I’m not too keen on their programs this year, Rika and Zhenya really put their all into their skates and it was awesome seeing such an intense battle for gold early in the season!
Last season Piper and Paul cemented their spot as my favorite dance team, so I was so excited to see their new programs at ACI! Gabb and I ran up to say hi to them and show them their banner when we spotted them during after the Rhythm Dance, and they were so sweet! Piper was delighted at Scout’s presence on the banner and insisted on giving us all hugs. Meanwhile Paul immediately noticed that yes, we did jazz up his banner alter ego with pink glitter lips courtesy of chaotic midnight crafting ideas.
Gabb and I had been brainstorming banners all summer and we had lots of last minute additions to make back at the airbnb, including dollar store runs for extra sketchy add-ons. Looking at our banner plans for upcoming competitions I fear this is going to become a firm tradition. Although honestly I’m just relieved the plethora of flowers we glued on late the night prior gamely stuck on for the entire comp.
Because of course cute fluffy dogs are always my priority, I was so touched when Piper and Paul brought Scout over during the victory ceremony specifically to say hi to us and get the flower crowns I made them! That type of genuine sincerity and appreciation for support is really precious and makes all the effort worthwhile. Anyway catch me shamelessly advocating for cute puppies to become a staple at skating events! I’m crossing my fingers Scout can join us at Worlds in Montreal this season.
Yes, I’m a broken record but guys, HARRY MATTICK!!!! Few skaters have ever given me as much joy via their program concepts, commitment to the performance, and a general tongue in cheek whimsical insanity that speaks to my soul. I’m so glad ACI is a staple comp for him because he is one of the absolute gems of skating in my opinion and we’re so lucky to get to see him there.
I also fell in love with Kevin Aymoz’s skating last year at ACI and the debut of his new programs was one of the most anticipated events here for me. His Prince short in particular is stellar and I cannot wait to watch it grow over the season.
The staple draw at ACI is of course Yuzuru Hanyu. It’s been wild to see just how intensely the fervour surrounding him seems to escalate each year. As a fan of him since his junior days I won’t lie that sometimes I long for when things were more low-key: even the contrast between this year and the first ACI I saw him at is striking. But there’s nothing quite so soothing and cathartic for me in skating as watching Yuzu practice. He is spellbinding even when running through stroking exercises. Watching Yuzu skate will always feel like coming home to me, in the most comforting, uplifting of ways. It’s simple quiet moments like this that I really treasure. Also given the last time I saw Yuzu the atmosphere was essentially grim determination and little else, seeing him in a brighter mood (and hopefully healthier state) at the beginning of the season is always a huge relief.
The Men’s victory ceremony was a treasure trove of cute shenanigans. One of the reasons I love challengers so much is your chance of the skaters goofing off and indulging in silly antics skyrockets. Keegan was incorrigible: holding up the Japanese flag for Yuzu so he could salute it, skating around with one guard on, stealing the flags from the podium for a victory lap, which of course Yuzu and Kevin saw and immediately had to join in on. I couldn’t breathe from laughing for the majority of it and it’s a miracle I got any semi decent photos while wheezing in disbelief.
On the first day Gabb and I gave standing at the railings to shoot a chance and if you have a long enough lens it really is your best bet for getting good clear shots despite the hockey glass.
Plus it’s so much more fun to dance along to the music during a comp versus being glued to your seat.
Javi crashing ACI, holding an unofficial fanmeeting during the Ladies’ Short Program, and being his usual gracious sunshiney self was the surreal surprise of the weekend! I hadn’t seen him since ACI in 2017 and it was such a nostalgic throwback. Also I had quite a few friends there who are massive Javi fans so seeing them finally get to meet him was so cute!
One of the things that has always impressed me most is the overwhelming generousity of skating fans. I have never attended an event where complete strangers have not offered me food, spontaneous gifts or ones that they carefully prepared, or tried to help others out. It was heartwarming watching so many people run around the rink handing out gifts. Several really sweet fans freely gave up seats so me or some of my friends could get better shots during the victory ceremonies or try to gift flower crowns to skaters. Overall the atmosphere was just so kind and happy.
Ultimately, ACI is arguably my favorite event of the season. It’s filled with so much nostalgia, crazy hilarious memories, very special moments and an alarming dose of sleep deprivation. I hope this gave you a bit of insight into being there and if you ever have the chance to attend, I highly recommend seizing it. Also if it ever comes back to Oakville and you’re going please feel free to hit me up for more detailed tips and recs in Oakville and Toronto.