The ul­ti­mate Cana­dian ice-skat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence

Mary Charleson writes about her op­por­tu­nity to ful­fil a frosty fan­tasy at Lake Louise

The Province - - TRAVEL -

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.

SUN­SET SKATE

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.

ECO­NOM­I­CAL OP­TIONS

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

Mary Charleson se­cures a trea­sured photo keep­sake: pos­ing on Lake Louise in her Stan­ley Cup­cakes team jersey.

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