Friday, November 30, 2012

How to Love Winter in the Rockies - On Skates!

While one of the classic winter sports, skating is often overlooked by families choosing a winter hobby or sport.  There are whole magazines devoted to skiing and snowshoeing but I don't know of one that focuses on simple ice skating.   And I'm not talking about competitive figure skating, hockey or speed skating - just pure and sweet skating on a frozen pond, lake, or river.

Skating on Cascade Ponds in Banff this November
I'm always surprised when people tell me that they don't own skates, haven't tried skating since they were a child, or that their children have never tried it.  How can you live in Canada and not own skates?  And what's not to like about ice skating?  It's relatively cheap once you buy a pair of skates and there's no additional cost if you skate outdoors.

Learning to skate is not nearly as difficult as learning to ski,  (sign the family up for a lesson if you need and you'll be gliding around the ice in no time), and the whole family can skate together;  You don't have to put junior in daycare while you go ski for the day or take turns on the bunny hill while one parent skis solo.  Our family is all about leisure activities we can do together!  We also like sports with low learning curves and that don't leave our bank account weeping.  Skating is therefore the perfect answer on all accounts.

Skating - A Classic Family Activity

Getting Started

  1. Go to a second hand store and find yourself a comfortable pair of skates.  Unless you excel at triple axel jumps or plan to enter an ice dance competition, you don't need to spend the money on a brand new pair of  skates for recreational use. There are many used sport stores in Calgary and you can get a decent pair of skates for under $50.  I recently went to one sport store to get myself a more comfortable pair and was surprised to see an entire wall, over 10 rows high, of used skates.  It wasn't hard to find something I liked with that selection.

  2. Choose a pair of skates that are both comfortable and easy to put on.  There's nothing worse than spending 10 minutes trying to cram your foot into a tight skate and another 5 minutes trying to lace it up.  By then your hands are frozen and you still have your children's skates to do up. 

  3. Most men will choose hockey skates but for women, consider the newest skate on the market called a "comfort skate."  It's what I recently upgraded to because while they are still figure skates with the traditional picks on the front for jumps and spins,  they are wider, more comfortable, have extra padding for warmth, and are lightning quick to lace up.  I can have both of my skates on in the time it takes my husband to put on one hockey skate!  That is what I need if I'm going to be doing up a child's skates too!  I do find my new comfort skates provide less support than my old figure skates, but the extra warmth and ease of putting them on is worth it to me.  You can buy these skates new from Canadian Tire (Christmas present)  or try to find them used.  I was lucky and found a second-hand pair in my size.

  4. Get toddlers and preschoolers started early with a pair of "Bob skates".  Another Canadian Tire store classic, they come in both black and pink and feature double blades for the beginner skater.  I know people who look down on these skates because the kids can walk around on the ice at most, marching around in their little blades that barely slide.  And while that is true, what 2-year old is going to put on a pair of hockey skates and tear up the ice with fancy power moves?  Toddlers just need to get comfortable being on the ice, having fun without the fear of constantly falling, and feeling like they are participating in a sport with the rest of the family instead of riding in their sled the whole time.  Bob Skates are perfect for the first winter skating.  My son started on them last year and now he has moved up to regular skates with confidence and enthusiasm for skating.  As a bonus, you won't have to try to find a used pair of Bob skates because they only cost $10 new.

  5. Consider expandable skates for preschoolers with ever-growing feet.  There's nothing worse than buying a pair of skates, shoes, boots, etc. and then having to buy a new pair a month later when the child goes through a growth spurt.  We bought new skates for our son and they were horribly expensive so I go back to number 1 - try to find used skates first!!  If however, you can't find a second-hand pair, I would still recommend a pair of  these skates - even at full price.  They are molded for extra warmth, adjust to at least 4 different sizes, have removable liners which makes it super easy to put them on (put the child's foot in the liner first, and then insert into the skate), and best of all - no laces!!! They have bindings like a ski boot instead of laces which is awesome in my opinion!  (Yes, I hate laces on skates.)

  6. Enroll your children in a basic skating lesson with a trained teacher who will have tons of fun games up his or her sleeve to make skating fun!  My son's preschool teacher had the kids carry teddy bears back and forth across the ice and it was a brilliant idea!  The kids loved the game and they got practice walking or gliding on their skates, turning around, and bending over to pick up the stuffed animals. In as short as one or two lessons, your children will have enough confidence to leave the chairs and skate aids aside.  We bought a skate aid for our son and I doubt we'll ever have to use it.

  7. Though you won't see one present in every one of my photos, I can't recommend enough that you get your children a proper multi-sport helmet, designed for skating.  My son wore a bicycle helmet his first year but they are not generally designed for absorbing multiple impacts.  As for mom and dad, it's still not a bad idea to have a helmet.  :)
Toddlers skating on Bob Skates
Always bring sleds for young kids.  When they get tired you can keep skating and they LOVE the ride!


Where to skate

I consider indoor skating rinks and arenas to be places where you take lessons, practice, and get your confidence on skates.  But it's not the real deal!  No rock climber for example aspires to climb indoors his whole life.  Indoor walls are great for practicing (and keep you climbing year-round) but something's missing. Skating is the same in my mind as climbing - you gotta get outside for the true classic experience.  And you don't have to go far to find a neighborhood pond or outdoor rink.

In Calgary, go to the City's website to find a list of outdoor skating rinks.  We love Bowness Park with it's lagoon, fire pits, and meandering creek you can skate down.  It's the classic experience and if you go mid-week you'll have the pond to yourself.  Bring hotdogs and marshmallows to further enjoy the experience.

Bowness Park on Christmas Day last year

In the Kananaskis and Banff area, check out the following ponds and rinks that see official maintenance and snow removal:
  • The Pond at Kananaskis Village (cleared by Delta Resort staff and open to all visitors. Skate rentals on-site, open by December)

  • The Pond in Canmore (located on 7 Avenue at Mallard Alley two blocks from Main Street, cleared by the Town of Canmore. Note: No hockey sticks allowed on this pond.  Open by December and home to the annual Canmore New Year's Eve Party on the Pond)

  • The pond behind the Banff Springs Hotel (open December to March)

  • Lake Louise (cleared area on the lake in front of the Chateau Lake Louise, open from November to April.  Skate rentals available on site)
Skating on the Pond at Kananaskis Village
The Pond in Canmore


  1. I just found your blog through this post. I played ice hockey on The Pond in Canmore yesterday evening and it was so much fun. You have a lot of great info on how to enjoy all the great things we have in the Bow Vally and surrounding areas. I linked to you through my blog to share.

  2. Glad I found your blog for very useful information on almost all winter sports with kids. I'm trying to find a pair of baby skates for my 19-month-old and myself. As an absolutely beginner, I have no idea how to choose a pair of recreational ice skates for myself. Thank you so much for providing so much information about ice skating. By they way, I have play inline skating many years ago but I have never ice skated before. Is it proper for me to take a toddler to play ice skating in a local ice rink? Any suggestions?

    1. For baby, I suggest Bob skates. They strap on to your boots. Most sport stores should sell them. As far as adult recreational skates, I like comfort skates. They are like figure skates but have less laces, are more comfortable, and easier to put on. Warmer too.
      And yes you can take a toddler to go ice skating at a local ice rink. Get a hockey helmet and find some plastic street hockey sticks for young kids. (with a soft puck.) Lots of fun.