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The Forks Skating: The World’s Longest Natural Outdoor Rink

The Forks Skating: The World’s Longest Natural Outdoor Rink

Yesterday John and I braved the cold and the winds. Why? So we could skate The Forks – the world’s longest natural outdoor rink – and that’s a Guinness World Record’s fact.

"Skating a pretty section of the Assiniboine River"

Skating a pretty section of the Assiniboine River

The Forks skating experience is one of the must do activities if you’re in Winnipeg in the winter.

Winnipeg, called Winterpeg by many, is famous for its long, brutally cold winters. Getting outside is the key to surviving them. Fortunately someone got the great idea back in the nineties to open the Red and Assiniboine Rivers to skating. And what a difference skating makes to a winter.

Right now there are seven kilometres open – a combination of the more sheltered Assiniboine River and the larger Red River. According to a fellow who works at Iceland Skate Rentals plans are in the works to open a total of eleven kilometres this year.

Over the past weekend the temperature in Winnipeg was -21°C, make that -31°C with the windchill – not the sort of temperatures that beckon the locals, let alone out of town visitors. It’s a dry cold and not quite as awful as it sounds. Clare MacKay, the VP for marketing and communications at The Forks, tells me that if the wind disappears and the temperatures stay above -20°C, the Forks can see up to 30,000 people over a single weekend. In some ways we were lucky as I’d say we saw no more than two dozen people out skating.

"We're the only skaters on the Red River for some time"

We’re the only skaters on the Red River for some time

"Lone skater on the frozen Red River in Winnipeg"

Lone skater on the frozen Red River in Winnipeg

The beauty of The Forks is you don’t even have to be a skater. There’s a snow covered trail alongside the skating trail so everyone can get out and enjoy the fresh air. And in this part of the world there is usually sunshine too.

I had brought warm clothes but not skates with me. Fortunately skates are easy to rent. Inside the Forks Market look for Iceland Skate Rentals. They have over 500 pairs of skates. Rentals are very reasonably priced – $4.50 a pair for adults and $2.50 for kids and seniors. They also provide onsite locker rentals for $2.00 and skate sharpening for $4.00.

"500 pairs of skates for rent including hockey and figure skates"

500 pairs of skates for rent including hockey and figure skates

"I rented these black figure skates - at only $4.50 a pair"

I rented these black figure skates – at only $4.50 a pair

"Pink laces add a little femininity to a hockey skate"

Pink laces add a little femininity to a hockey skate

"I am fully bundled up - and very warm 90% of the time"

I am fully bundled up – and very warm 90% of the time

"At times I have the whole river to myself"

At times I have the whole Assiniboine River to myself (I’ve told John to go ahead)

"Look out for cracks in the ice"

Look out for cracks in the ice that can send you flying

"Almost wiping out on skates"

John – almost wiping out – a rare occurrence

John and I skate for the better part of 90 minutes. He does the whole 14 kilometres, I do about twelve. The only part of me that gets cold is my face; today a mask would have come in handy.

But when we finish I feel a warm glow and a profound sense of being alive.

The only thing I’m sorry to have missed is the warming hutsWithin a week there will be approximately fourteen of them in place at various points along the river. These aren’t just any old warming huts but ones that have been designed by architects.

"A warming hut under construction"

A warming hut under construction

"The Smokehouse warming house"

The Smokehouse warming house – designed by aamodt/plumb architects from Cambridge, MA (this is not in its finished form)

Here’s a description of The Smokehouse – one of the winning entries – from the Warming Huts website.

The elemental, pure form of the hut, almost the very symbol of home, rendered in the stark black of charred wood, is nestled in soft white snow. Inside, layers of thick ivory felt line the walls and seating, creating a nest-like interior reminiscent of ancient gathering places strewn with animal pelts. On closer inspection, one discovers the felt layers embossed with delicate patterns and textures, a subtle sanctification of intimate space. The room has a unique sound, or absence thereof: it is silent, like the sound of new snow on the street.
One enters and leaves through the same door, stooping to duck under the felt draftstop, bending to join temporary community within. The communal nature of the experience is revealed only upon entering as you join the visitors gathered in the quiet warm space. It is this unfolding of subtle surprises that lie behind the formal quietude of the hut.

If you’re in the Winnipeg area between now and the end of February make it a point to see these warming huts and go for a skate. You may luck out too and catch one of the multitude of activities planned at The Forks in the winter – including a curling Bonspiel, a bike race and shinny.

On a final note – I would like to mention that the famous Rideau Canal in Ottawa – which is also used for skating, is the biggest natural outdoor rink – just not the longest. It also has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Did you know the Forks was the world’s longest natural outdoor rink?

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 16 Comments
  1. I would have guessed Rideau Canal in Ottawa. I didn’t realize that The Forks area was cleared for skating. Sounds like fun though – anything to not have to skate around and around and around and around!

    1. @Gillian I think there is a battle between the two cities. I think it’s great they both have long rinks. I grew up skating on the Rideau Canal and loved the recreational opportunities it provided especially to a group of teenagers.

  2. I guess I’d be on the side trail hiking as I’ve never been a skater; however I can see that it might be a fun activity if for some reason I found myself in Winnipeg in the dead of winter…hmmm, can’t really see that happening either, but you never know, right?

  3. -21 C?!! good lord.. i can’t even manage -2! haha. Well, i like the pink laces but that’s not enough reason to get me on the rink in that blistering cold.. unless u have a giant facemask for me that is heated inside! LOL

    1. @Mette Can you skate on the lakes in Denmark? I realize it’s a function of temperature but I never associate the Danish people with skates – only the Dutch though there is plenty of hockey happening in Europe too. Rivers are way more fun to skate on than indoor arenas or small local rinks.

  4. I can’t even begin to comprehend how cold it must be at those temperatures! I pile all the winter jumpers on at once on the rare occasions when the temperature drops to under 10degrees celcius! The skating looks fun and what a great idea to be able to skate on the rivers. Weren’t you lucky that there were not too many people around the day you went!

    1. @Jenny It’s all what you get used to. I have a very low tolerance for too much heat and find the ideal temperature to be between 20-25C. Unfortunately we don’t get enough months like that. And the skating was great fun. I wish we had a long rink like that in Calgary.

  5. Sounds like fun! I like anything that is the world’s largest/longest/tallest, etc. Great idea about the warming huts as well!

  6. Interesting post, you cover this longest rink beautifully. I think fourteen to twelve kms of skating is too long. My maximum score is 5 km but I was not the only skater like you at that place. This place is really good option for skating.

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