Skating the river trail

It’s that time again. The holidays are over, Winnipeg is covered in several feet of snow and the deep-freeze has set in. We’ve got at least eight more weeks until Winnipeg looks even remotely spring-like, and a handful of -40 C days to get through before then. Even if you love our windy little prairie city, you’re probably wishing you lived elsewhere right now. Maybe somewhere your exposed flesh won’t freeze in under 10 minutes.

Lucky for us, Winnipeg has found a way to make these long winter months a little more bearable. We may be a full 25 C colder than our friends on the West Coast, but we have something they can only hope for — a truckload of ice. Sure, Vancouver and other warm-weathered cities have plenty of indoor rinks, but there is a significant lack of outdoor skating opportunities, unless you’re willing to leave the city. Not so in Winnipeg. With almost 200 days out of the year dipping below 0 C, there is plenty of ice sitting around, just begging to be used. So rather than making the long, arduous trek to the gym (or more likely, staying home and moping), it makes sense to take advantage of the uniquely Winnipeg skating experience.

Aside from the many outdoor ice rinks all over the city, Winnipeg has one of the longest naturally frozen skating path in the world. At 8.54 km, the trail, which covers both the Assiniboine and Red River, is something worth getting excited about. Starting at the Forks, the trail goes all the way to the Assiniboine Park foot bridge. For anyone who has skated along the river trail, you know it is an experience altogether different from skating on a rink. In addition to the exhilaration of skating above tonnes of flowing water, the view from the river is nothing to sneeze at. There’s something about watching the snowy riverbank scenery fly by that makes wood panels and chain link fences seem less than impressive.

The river skating trail isn’t all there is, either. At the centre of the Forks is the Plaza Skating Rink, which has a canopy and music playing. The Forks also has the Scotiabank Skating Rink next to the Scotiabank stage for hockey and general skating fun. Connecting both skating rinks, and running through much of the Forks is the Winter Park Skating Trail. The trail is 1.2 km long, and has warming huts strategically placed along the path.

Aside from the usual fare, there are plenty of events to entertain you. On Sunday afternoons this January, DJs serenade you while you skate, dance or do some combination of the two on the Plaza Skating Rink. On Friday evenings, the river skating trail is lit up and Fire Pyxies — a Winnipeg based trio of fire dancers — perform for your entertainment. At the end of January there is a three-day, old-fashioned shinny tournament on the river pond, and at the beginning of February there is an ice-biking tournament that I wouldn’t consider entering even if you paid me several of your hard-earned dollars.

Possibly the best part about embarking on your new ice-related adventure is the cost. Cheap, on-site rentals mean that you don’t even have to shell out money to buy skates for these fun-filled activities. For $4 a day, you can have all the ice-related fun you want. Let’s see you find something to do in Vancouver that cheap.