One Last Spin

By: Laurie Nealin, Winnipeg Free Press

Iconic skater Kurt Browning Set to Hang up Blades at 56 after Final Stars on Ice Tour

One day a long time ago, as Dewey Browning headed into an arena with his son Kurt, he turned and motioned to the cars in the parking lot. Every one of those people carved time out of their lives to come see you skate, the salt-of-the-earth Albertan told his teenage son, impressing upon him that he must always strive to give an audience his best.

Forty years, four world championship titles and nearly 1,000 Stars on Ice shows later, those words of wisdom continue to resonate with the now iconic figure skater.

For his last hurrah with Stars on Ice, Alberta figure skater Kurt Browning has cherry-picked favourite snippets of choreography from his vast repertoire set to The Who’s song Who Are You.

“(My dad) made me realize audiences don’t magically appear,” Browning says. “I take my performing very seriously, try to keep the quality up, and that’s a reason I tried to quit in 2015.

“Now it’s 2023, and I’m working really hard to be as good a skater as I can but, at 56, you’re not there every moment you need to be. Your body does betray you with fatigue or whatever it might be.”

Although audiences have never stopped cheering his on-ice brilliance, the perennial Stars headliner has decided to step away from the spotlight. “I’m so glad I made that nice round number of 30 (full tours) and excited to be able to have interactions with the audience to say, ‘Thank you for the support.’”

He’ll say goodbye in Winnipeg on Wednesday at Canada Life Centre, alongside a star-studded cast.

Through May and into June, Browning is slated to glide down memory lane in 12 Canadian and eight U.S. cities. Following an unparalleled 30-plus-years with Stars, the consummate showman will take his final bow in Hershey, Pennsylvania two weeks shy of his 57th birthday.

Browning, the first to land a quadruple jump in competition back in 1988, names Brickhouse, Singin’ in the Rain and his baggy-pantsed, red-nosed clown character Raggy as all-time favourite programs. Those choices exemplify his vast artistic range.

“I think I’ve scratched every musical itch and enjoyed doing it. I feel pretty satisfied with the opportunities I have been given, which is abundantly more than most skaters will ever even dream of,” he says.

For his last hurrah, the ever-droll Browning said he “glued, duct-taped and Lego-ed together” favourite snippets of choreography from his vast repertoire into a retrospective routine — fittingly set to The Who’s Who Are You.

Kurt Browning says he has choreographed himself a very physical skate for his farewell tour with Stars on Ice, and says it will be like flipping through a photo album of his past solos.

“It’s a very physical skate, because the steps I chose are all fast, but it’s going to be fun, because it’s like flipping through a photo album of my old solos.”

For his costume, Browning designed a T-shirt listing his 63 solo programs on the back, reminiscent of concert tour merch. Then he decided fans might like to have their own. “So, the shirt I am wearing for my solo will be available for purchase on the concourse,” he says, mimicking an in-arena announcement.

Browning’s second solo skate was choreographed by his wife, Alissa Czisny, a former U.S. champion and fellow Stars cast member. They married last August.

“It’s really subdued, more laid back and has built-in moments where I can just relax, look up and take in the audience. It’s kind of like a long hug.”

The three Canadian men who succeeded Browning as world champions are part of his final tour, including figure skating’s rock star Elvis Stojko, 10-time national titleholder Patrick Chan and the show’s choreographer, Jeff Buttle. Reigning Canadian champ Keegan Messing, the sport’s newest fan favourite, is also on board.

Stojko and Browning last stood together on the world championship podium 30 years ago — Stojko wearing the silver medal, Browning the gold, and both rocking mullets.

Stojko, now 51 and contemplating his own on-ice future, took ownership of the podium in 1994 when Browning retired from competition.

“Kurt wants to move on, but I feel it in my gut,” Stojko said. “Argh. It’s the end of an era, a big era, but I’m smiling looking at all the good times we had.

“Looking back, I was very blessed to be a part of the whole Kurt-Elvis rivalry, the legacy, that time of skating in the ’90s,” says Stojko, who returned to Stars in 2016 after a long hiatus. “We created a lot of awesome moments. Amazing to think it’s been 30 years. It went by in the blink of an eye.”

Since then, he and Browning have spent much time reminiscing, their feet dangling in hotel hot tubs while their much younger cast members sought livelier post-show venues. Touring was so much easier, the veterans say, with each other there.

“Kurt loves to perform, so that alone gives him that extra exuberance to continue the last number of years. And, luckily, his body’s been good to him, too,” says Stojko, who’s not sure how much longer he’ll keep skating in the wake of Browning’s retirement.

The elder statesmen came to a decision that it was time they performed a duet to celebrate their friendship, their intersecting careers, accomplishments and longevity. Raise a Little Hell was deemed the obvious music choice.

“It’ll be a very casual three minutes on the ice. We’ll both be mic’d and we hope to have a lot of fun each night,” Browning says.

Stojko also performs two solo numbers. One, set to a remix of Van Halen’s Jump, is in his quintessential style. “It’s full-out, fast, tricks, in-your-face, boom, done,” says Stojko, whose serious car-racing ambitions, including moving up from endurance racing to the Porsche Cup series, are becoming his priority.

Looking to his future, Browning would like to continue as a TV commentator and hosting camps for adult skaters of all skill levels. He isn’t sure he’ll be able to keep himself in shape even for one-off shows.

“I don’t know what my body’s going to do, what my mind’s going to do, so we’re gonna play it by ear,” he says. “I know when I take Stars off the plate, it’s going to change how I look at the whole year, and that’s OK.”