The ultimate Canadian ice-skating experience
Mary Charleson writes about her opportunity to fulfil a frosty fantasy at Lake Louise
Since seeing the Molson Canadian 2010 Winter Olympic commercial featuring a lone hockey player skating on an open frozen lake, with a backdrop of mountains, I have fantasized about doing the same in the Canadian Rockies, wearing my team’s hockey jersey.
I skated the canal in Ottawa with a friend one time, which was pretty epic, but the ultimate — skating Lake Louise surrounded by the mountains of Banff National Park, on a clear, cold winter day — was still a fantasy.
As a Canadian who grew up in Ontario, ice skating on rivers and lakes was familiar. I had spent many winters playing shinny with the boys on Lake Simcoe after school.
But living in Vancouver the last 30 years, indoor arenas were as scenic as it got.
I took up playing hockey again in my mid-40s with a bunch of fun-loving women on a team called The Stanley Cupcakes. I figured a photo wearing my team jersey would make for a treasured keepsake, long after retiring my skates.
So when a conference I had been attending in Banff ended midday, and an opportunity to grab a rental car with snow tires came up, I jumped at it. The 55-kilometre drive to Lake Louise would allow me a couple hours of skating on the lake just before sunset, with time to safely return to the Banff Upper Hot Springs that evening for a soak.
There’s nothing quite like the comfort of my skates, and I was truly missing my Grafs that day, but rentals were available at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel, and Chateau Mountain Sports, located just off the lobby.
Cost for a two-hour skate rental was $13 for adults and a full-day was $16. Skating on the lake is free.
Fairmont staff begin measuring ice thickness at the end of November. Once it is safe, usually the first week of December, they clear large areas of snow for the rinks. The ice is maintained by flooding with a tractor and sprinkler in tow, Zamboni-style, to maintain smoothness throughout the season. It’s rare that the lake can be naturally skated on without snow clearing, but prolonged deep freezes early season without a heavy snowfall have happened.
Floodlights illuminate the rink until 11 p.m., so daytime or evening skating is possible.
Large ice castles are built on the lake during the Ice Magic Festival before Christmas, and remain throughout the season as long as the frozen lake can maintain their weight. They are a spectacular attraction all on their own.
It was clear and cold at -15 C with a cutting wind.
Numerous hockey rinks are located next to the skating rink. Nets and pucks are out, and you can bring your own stick or rent one for $5. I joined an impromptu shinny game of three-on-three while there.
Lake Louise hosts an annual
Pond Hockey Classic tournament the third week of February each year. Now in its 11th season, teams flock from afar, and entry sells out early.
There are firepits and benches by the lake, making it easy to change into skates and leave snow boots sheltered.
You can also visit a rinkside “ice bar.” Built entirely of sculpted ice, they curiously have heaters to stand underneath, allowing you to sip an adult beverage in warm comfort while still being outside.
I wasn’t staying in Lake Louise on my trip, but for those who plan to, you can’t beat the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise for view and location. It books up quickly, though, and is the most expensive option.
More economical stays are available within the town of Lake Louise at locations such as Deer Lodge and Lake Louise Inn.
Depending on what activities you wish to pursue, such as skiing or visiting natural hot springs in the area, staying in Banff and driving to Lake Louise for the day is a great option. While having a rental car provided freedom to visit nearby towns or ski on additional days at Sunshine,
Lake Louise or Norquay, there are also buses to these areas from the Chateau and Banff, as well as a daily shuttle to Calgary International airport, just 180 km east of Lake Louise.
As I removed my skates sitting on an outdoor bench by the firepit, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
My fingers were bare and cold, but my heart was warm and full. And that hot rum drink at the ice bar was beckoning.
I skated the canal in Ottawa with a friend one time, which was pretty epic, but the ultimate — skating Lake Louise surrounded by the mountains of Banff National Park, on a clear, cold winter day — was still a fantasy.” Mary Charleson