This article is from the Recreational Figure Skating FAQ, by Karen Bryden with numerous contributions by others.
While the obvious response is "it depends on what kind of skating you
want to do", in reality the beginner has to learn a set of basic
skating skills starting with balance, posture, stroking and stopping,
and these can be learned on either type. So, which type of skate is
better to start with, and how much the two types of skating really
The toe picks on figure skates need *getting used to*. They are *not*
used for very basic skating (stroking, cross-cuts) but are required
for proper execution of many jumps and spins. You get more of the
fundamentals when you learn on figure skates (perhaps because the
lessons concentrate on technique).
The blade of the figure skate is wider than hockey skates. The profile
or rocker is intended to have the right radius of curvature along the
blade for moves where you are shifting your weight to the front or
back of the skates. There are different styles of blades for dance,
figures and free-style. Hockey blades are short, narrow, with a deep
grind and highly rockered, especially at the ends and are designed for
maximum agility . Blades for goalies aren't as rockered and have a
Hockey skaters tend to skate more hunched over and are much more
concerned with quick stops, starts, and changes of direction. Figure
skaters tend to skate more upright, and have more fluid movements. And
they don't spit on the ice ;-)
Figure skates generally cost more than hockey skates. The boots are
usually made of leather and require maintenance. Figure skates have
heels (about 1 1/2 inches).
Figure skates should not be used for playing hockey. The blades
protrude more and can cause injury. Hockey skates can be used for
figure skating (even for jumping) but your progress will be limited.