Skate, Skate, Skate!
In a region that has the Rideau Canal Skateway, you would think that the competition would be pretty stiff for other outdoor skating establishments. After all, the Rideau Canal in winter becomes the world’s largest and second-longest skating rink with a cleared length of 7.8 kilometres. This is the equivalent surface of 90 Olympic hockey rinks. In January 2008 it lost the title of the world’s longest skating rink to Winnipeg, Manitoba, whose rink on the Assiniboine River is 8.54 kilometres long. But because that rink is only two to three metres wide, it has a smaller area than the Rideau Canal Skateway. So, Ottawa’s rink is shorter but larger by area than Winnipeg’s. And just to make sure, the Guinness Book of World Record certified it in 2005 as the “largest natural frozen ice rink in the world.”
All of this by way of a very long introduction and background to a new craze that has hit the National Capital Region in Canada. Private outdoor rinks are popping up everywhere, and people are actually paying to skate, rather than use the “largest natural frozen ice rink in the world” for free. Go figure.
It began when an outdoor rink, which winds its way through the forest near Wolf Lake, Quebec, opened a couple of years ago, just before the pandemic struck. It was a roaring success, with people driving from miles around to experience the peace and tranquility of skating through the forest (with hundreds of other people, mind you).
Three more of them opened over the next couple of years—Eco-Odyssey in Wakefield, Quebec, where you can skate through a maze of trails in a frozen wetland area; Icelynd Skating Trail in Stittsville, Ontario owned by former NHL Senators defenceman Chris Neil; and Riveroak Skating Trail near Metcalfe, Ontario. And now we’ve arrived at the subject of this blog—our morning of blissful (mostly) skating through forest, orchards, and meadows at Riveroak.
We arrived shortly after they opened at 9:00 am so we pretty much had the place to ourselves for a couple of hours until it started getting very busy around mid-day. The ice is flooded with a Zamboni so it is good quality. It felt like we were skating on an indoor rink. The ice was very, very hard so we were glad that we had had our skates sharpened before we got there.
In a forest and through fields the terrain isn’t exactly flat. In fact, it isn’t flat at all. You are either skating uphill, which is a brand new experience, or coasting downhill, another unfamiliar but extremely fun experience. It took us a couple of kilometres to get our “skate legs” but once we did we were sailing through the course. There is a long downhill stretch, about 300 metres, on which you gather some good speed by just standing there and accelerating as you descend. We waited until we had been out for a while before trying that one—and then we did it several more times.
After we had covered 10 kilometres our legs had had enough and we called it a day. On our way back to the car we stopped in at the lodge for hot chocolate. And we couldn’t resist buying a couple of jars of locally produced maple syrup butter and maple syrup sugar.
It was an invigorating day under a clear blue sky. It’s highly recommended if you live in this area. And if you don’t, bring your skates next time you visit the National Capital Region in winter and check it out. It’s going to give the Rideau Canal Skateway a good run for its money.