Skate news for early January

Throngs enjoy a healthful Family Day skate on Ottawa's Rideau Canal Skateway in 2014. Photo: Lucy Martin

Throngs enjoy a healthful Family Day skate on Ottawa’s Rideau Canal Skateway in February of 2014. Photo: Lucy Martin

It’s time, as far as I am concerned, for outdoor winter sport season to commence. Or resume.

We had some rather good skiing in early December. But then it warmed.

I’m writing this on Jan 2nd in Ottawa, where my lawn is sadly visible through a mere dusting of snow. There’s finally enough cold in the forecast to preserve snow and ice, we just need more of the white stuff to fall from the sky.

Skating is available in some locations. I enjoyed a happy family skate at the North Grenville Municipal Centre in Kemptville on Dec 31st. Many arenas offer skate sessions for the public.

Indoor skating is reliable but it doesn’t hold a candle to the natural high of outdoor skating. Ottawa is, of course, famed for one of the best such natural skateways in the world. Alas, the Rideau Canal Skateway is not open yet. Indeed, authorities are warning the public to stay off the ice there, no matter how tempting it looks. It will open as soon as the necessary thickness is attained, and it’s well worth experiencing.

I’ve been collecting skate-themed material for the last month, to share with anyone who cares. Here’s something from a “luxury travel blog” about 6 of the best outdoor skating rinks around the world – and yes, Ottawa made that list.

The UK’s Daily Mail is always good for lavishly illustrating whatever it gases on about, as trumpeted in
these headlines:
From cruising the walls of the Kremlin to zooming past windmills: The world’s most breathtaking ice skating venues revealed

  • Adventure travel website compiled a list of the best ice skating rinks
  • Includes Lac de Joux, the largest expanse of frozen water in Europe
  • Features longest natural rink, 4.8 mile Rideau Canal Skateway in Canada 

Is Ottawa proud of it’s home-town claim to fame? Oh my, yes, you betcha! Some times in a parochial way. Ottawa’s skateway used to be the world’s longest until that upstart, Winnipeg, stole that thunder. No matter. We are still the “largest”, so there. And among the “poshest” according to this from the Ottawa Citizen, which is basically bragging about making the aforementioned Luxury Travel blog list.

Winnipeg got some notice from the New York Times for their very creative use or warming huts that are also architectural sculpture/art. And no wonder. If you thought skating in Ottawa gets cold, Winnipeg wins that contest, hands down. From the article by Elaine Glusac:

Forget customary cabins with roaring fireplaces or heat-belching furnaces. These huts more closely resemble art installations, and many, including my favorite, “Wind Catcher,” a Caribbean blue open-sided box with an orange wind funnel within, aren’t even warm. Six years ago, Peter Hargraves, a principal at Winnipeg-based Sputnik Architecture, was co-founder of an architectural contest to build inventive huts along the river rink.

“The project was selfish initially,” Mr. Hargraves said one afternoon last February as we skated the trail together. Without warming huts, he said, he’d be freezing before he finished tying the skate laces for his three children. Once he determined the city needed warming huts, the architect saw a unique opportunity.

“This is Winnipeg. We’re a winter city,” he said. “I thought, let’s enhance it.”

Enhance and embrace winter. My sentiments exactly. And there certainly was a lot to love (endure?) last year. As reported by the Ottawa Citizen:

The Rideau Canal Skateway attracted an average of 23,000 daily visits last winter — the most since statistics were first captured in 1992-93 — according to the National Capital Commission.

In its 2013-14 annual report, tabled Friday, the NCC says skateway attendance was about 1.2 million last winter, an increase of 2,000 a day over the previous year. There were 58 skating days during the season, the most since 2008-09.

Researching this subject I was happily surprised to see that Montréal is looking at opening up skating on the Lachine canal. It’s still just a proposal, but backer would like to see that happen by 2017. From the CBC:

Parks Canada officials say they are looking at the idea of opening the canal for skating, but don’t have any specific details at the moment.

Skaters also like the idea, such as Jonathan Brun who runs a website called Patiner Montreal that shows people where to find a skating rink in their area.

“Bringing people out of their homes in the winter and into a collective space where there’s a park or a skating rink is good for the community,” said Brun.

“You end up meeting your neighbours, you end up getting more exercise and enjoying the city more.”

There are outdoor rinks in Ottawa, besides the not-yet-open canal. The “Rink of Dreams” fronting City Hall and the Skating Court at Lansdowne Park are both open (and free).

Portland Ontario is once again getting ready for their big “Skate the Lake” event Sat. Jan 24th. That takes place on a large (1k) natural ice oval on Big Rideau Lake. Of course conditions vary, but that’s usually a top-notch surface. Race day features distances from 5k to 50k, for all skill levels. With no training at all, I’ve been at the tail end of the 10K distance in a previous year. (They serve snert too.) I can personally recommend it as a very warm, small-town friendly event. An embodiment of embracing winter and Canadian hospitality, really.

And we may need to embrace winter all the more poignantly. Martha Foley sent me a link to a technical study titled “Declining availability of outdoor skating in Canada” (.pdf) (by Jeremy R. Brammer, Jason Samson and Murray M. Humphries):

 Climate change is,and will continue, altering the supply of ecosystem services 1,2. Cultural ecosystem services provide important societal benefits but are challenging to operationalize 2–5. The impact of warming on these cultural activities, such as ice skating, are likely to be among the most broadly obvious and compelling impacts of climate change 6. Here we report that the availability and benefits of skating on the world’s largest outdoor ice skating facility: declined from 1972 to 2013, was strongly dependent on weather, and is projected to continue declining with an accelerated rate between 2020–2090.

OK, winter isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But for those who love that season and all it brings, there’s even more reason to value that now and work to keep it for the future.

 Skate the Lake's excellent 1 kilometer rink in 2008. Photo: Lucy Martin

Worth the trip: Skate the Lake’sexcellent 1 kilometer rink in 2008. Photo: Lucy Martin

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