Today was so much more relaxing than our family skate last week at our community centre’s overcrowded public skate, where we spent much of our time worrying about people skating way beyond their abilities. Not that we were overly concerned about their safety, but rather our safety. When they fall there is tendency for them to take down people around them.
Skating outdoors on a frozen pond, or a lake, versus a local rink or arena is like swimming on a secluded beach in the warm azure coloured waters of the Caribbean, compared to a public swimming pool on a hot August day. On any pond or lake that I’ve ever skated, we were either the only ones on the ice, or on occasion, we shared it with a few others. So there has always been plenty of room for everyone, even for those out of control.
Today we discovered a new place to skate — Terra Cotta Conservation Area. Besides a skating area, Terra Cotta Conservation Area, has a number of snowshoe, cross-country and hiking trails. If you’ve hiked along the Bruce Trail, Toronto section, Boston Mills, Map 14 then you will most likely have hiked through this 504 acre, former campground, restored to its natural state by the Credit Valley Conservation Area authority in Halton Region.
The gatekeeper informed us that the ice was good today, when I inquired on the ice conditions. Sure, I could have called ahead to check on the ice conditions before we drove for an hour; but where would the adventure be in that. Instead we brought snowshoes as an option.
At the Visitor’s Centre a number of families with children, about the same age as my daughter, were gearing up for cross-country skiing. As I saw my daughter watch the children slip, slide and laugh, I thought she would try to convince us to change our plans and go cross-country skiing instead. That would have been fine with me; she’s never tried it before and I think she would have enjoyed it. But, off we went, in the direction given at the Visitor’s Centre, to the skating area on Wolf Lake.
After passing two cross-country skiers along Terra Cotta Lane Trail, we came to a bench overlooking the lake. Snow, a few inches from seat level, made the bench a little awkward for all but my daughter, to put on skates. Fortunately I had a tripod folding chair in my backpack and we were all on the ice within minutes.
The three snow shovels on the edge of the lake were used them recently to clear the snow in an area about the size of a hockey rink. It was nice that we didn’t have to clear any snow; we could get right to the fun.
There was a thin layer of re-frozen ice in the center of the rink where it had melted the day before. The ice was at its best around the perimeter. It was clear and hard. All we had to do was to watch for the odd crack in the ice so as not to catch our blades.
The sun was shining, the temperature was -6 °C with 20 km wind coming in from the west. Being in an open area it was a little windy, but that was only an issue 50% of the time. The rest of the time, with the wind at our backs, we skated that much faster.
A hockey net off to the side in a snow bank was frozen into the snow. We could have chiseled it out but we left our hockey sticks in the car intending to return for them once we found the rink. Not that we were very far away but once we had our skates on no one wanted to go back for them.
My daughter practiced making figure eights in the ice. My wife worked on getting comfortable with her stride. I can count the number of times she’s been skating on two hands, so she’s still a little shaky. I helped her along and gave advice. Eventually my daughter became bored with figure eights and enticed us to play tag and follow the leader.
We were out on the ice for about two hours when a couple walked by on the adjacent trail and watched us for a while. They seemed disappointed that they didn’t have skates. I believe they took a photograph of us. And I think it was at the very moment as when my blade caught a crack in the ice. You know the cracks I mentioned earlier; the ones to watch out for. I went stumbling across the ice doing everything in my power to prevent myself from falling. It is probably a very funny photo!
It was an absolutely fantastic afternoon of skating. Not forgetting the thermos of hot chocolate was the only thing that could have made it better.
So, the next time you feel like ice skating, do yourself a favour and take the family to a pond or a lake and enjoy skating like you never have before.
But be safe! There are certain potential dangers associated with this activity. It is best to go to a Conservation Area or to a place where they have tested the ice and will close the area if it is not safe. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have any responsibilities in this matter. Ensure to test the ice conditions yourself before venturing onto the ice. Bring ice claws (I use screw drivers) and rope for emergencies. I have never had any incidents. I have walked away though, when the conditions weren’t 100% safe. If you have the slightest of doubts exchange those skates for the snowshoes you brought as backup.
The Canadian Red Cross provides important Ice Safety information that you should know before venturing out on to the ice. (Note that this information uses centimeters (1 cm = .39”).
See more photographs of today’s adventure.