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No self-respecting Canadian waits for a warmer day…

There’s a rumor going around that we Canucks love us some cold weather.  And while I’m sure that may be true in many cases, I think it’s more likely that we Canadians love us some winter recreation -hockey, skiing, skating. Or maybe it’s just a matter of playing the hand we’ve been dealt. In most of the country, most of the winter months are…well, cold. And snowy. And what, you expect us to stay inside ’til spring?

As a Southern Ontarian, I can’t say I enjoy the winter. And luckily, in Southern Ontario, especially this year, the winters aren’t awful. So far this winter, I think we’ve maybe had three days with snow on the ground. And that’s how I got to the ripe old age of 40 without ever having skated on ice that’s a body of water at other times of the year.

But that’s not true anymore! As of this past week, I can now say I skated on the longest rink in the world – the Rideau Canal. Which also means I can cross one more of Canada’s World Heritage sites off my to-do list.

While the folks at home were enjoying mild temperatures and ditching the gloves, I spent a few days visiting my daughter in our nation’s capital, where people actually walk around the mall in snowpants.  We packed up our skates on Friday and bundled up and set out for downtown – when in Rome, etc etc.

What a cool experience! The first thing you want to consider, of course, is how you’re going to haul your skates to the Canal, (especially if you’re not driving), what you’re going to do with your boots while you’re skating, and then how you’re going to drag your skates around when you’ve had enough and just want to go shopping indoors. Luckily, my daughter’s an old hand at this, and packed up the backpack. The only thing we forgot was a plastic bag to put our wet boots into before we put them in the backpack.

You can also rent skates right there at Marker 0.0. If you have little skaters that might tire sooner than you, you can also rent nifty sleds that go right on the ice (I noticed many families using their sleds to haul their stuff instead of their kids). I think there may be a limited number of rental lockers available in the skate changing shack, but I’m not clear on that. And I suppose you could leave your boots tucked under a picnic table, especially if you’ll be returning to your point of origin (a lot of people don’t), but I wouldn’t recommend it. Take a backpack and carry on!

At or near Marker 0.0. (and possibly elsewhere), they have washrooms, a skate changing shack, the skate rental booth and several food booths selling goodies like hot chocolate, french fries, maple sugar candy and of course, Beaver Tails. I’ll get to those in a minute.

If you’ve never skated on “real” ice before, you should know that it’s not necessarily all shiny and smooth like an artificially created rink. There are bumps and ridges and grooves, so you’ll want to watch for those. Every little bit there are stairs that allow you to leave the rink if you’ve had enough. We skated from 0.0 to the 1.0 km mark, and then back again. I saw everything from senior citizens to tiny kids, and countless teenagers. I didn’t think to wonder why so many weren’t in school on a Friday afternoon. (though I’m wondering now) There were skaters who had clearly never been on skates before and speed demons that whizzed by in a blur.

It was wonderful! After we arrived back at 0.0 I had my next new experience – I ate a Beaver Tail!

Beaver Tails are heavenly handfuls of deep-fried doughy goodness sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. I now know why so many people were upset when the Canada Pavillion at Epcot stopped selling them. You can also get them with toppings- everything from syrup to Reese’s Pieces, but I stuck with plain to start with. Frankly, after skating 2 km, I could have eaten three, but we had sights to see and kept moving.

So, if life happens to take you through Ottawa one winter day, be sure to try skating on the Canal. It’s a neat experience, and because you braved the cold, and didn’t wait for a warmer day, you’ll have earned that Beaver Tail. Have fun!

It’s not all downhill from here

Was reading a friend’s blog today, wherein she chronicled some of her experiences with skiing. Although we’ve no snow yet here in the Banana Belt of the Great White North, our thoughts are definitely turning toward the winter recreation season. Her blog reminded me of a great deal that I don’t think gets nearly enough publicity.

Here in Canada we’ve got what they call the Snowpass. Essentially, it’s a program offered by the Canadian Ski Council that gives kids in Grade 4 and 5 the chance to ski for FREE. Be sure to check the website for participating locations – they’re all over Canada.

My earliest ski adventure happened when I was eight; here in Southwestern Ontario, our downhill ski venues are few and far between, so many of us look to Southeast Michigan for quick day trips. I can still count on both hands the number of times I’ve skied since then, but I can tell you this: I love it! There’s just a feeling of freedom and an incredible rush of adrenaline when you’re hurtling down the side of a hill, picking up speed the further you go. And yet, if you’re me, you never feel out of control. Yes, I’ve had my share of bumps and bruises, and I’m a long way from being any kind of an expert, but it’s fantastic!

So, when my own kids were little, I didn’t hesitate to take them over to Mt. Brighton and let them give it a try. They seemed to enjoy it too; I even have a video here somewhere, I’ll dig and see if I can find it.

It should be noted that skiing the so-called “garbage dumps” in Lower Michigan in no way prepares you for, say, Searchmont, in Northern Ontario. I was 13 when I encountered that lovely resort on a school trip; as I stood at the top of the hill, I was shocked to see, you know, trees, right there in middle of the hill. There’s a world of difference between a natural hill/mountain and something man-made.

Nonetheless, get the Snowpass, find a ski hill near you, and let your kids give it a try – and you try it too! It’s one of those things that everyone should do at least once. I’ll make you a deal – apply for the Snowpass, and I’ll post the video of me trying out the baby jumps, and maybe even some photos.