Studies have shown that winters are hell on the physical fitness of urban Canadians. We settle into an indoor, sedentary lifestyle for the long winter months, and as we age, find it harder and harder to return to normal physical activity levels come spring. The solution to cold-weather physical decline, certainly, is obvious: get active.
But those mountain ski resorts are soooo far away, you whine (as do I). Truth is, all kinds of winter sport activities are available in Calgary. There’s more than one to suit all ability levels and pocket-book thicknesses.
THE SKINNY ON SHINNY
There’s no winter activity so intrinsically Canadian as scrub hockey. It’s the arena in which stickhandling Canucks who didn’t make the NHL can nonetheless live the dream. While some rinks have jettisoned their shinny programs on account of insurance hassles and other problems, the sport has not as yet been relegated to Kamik-clad shootouts on residential streets (as much fun as those can be).
Several City of Calgary rinks continue to offer pickup hockey. The rules are simple. Each game consists of two teams of up to 26 players, including two goalies who, even though their services are in high demand, play for free. Players rotate on and off the ice in three-minute shifts with no slapshots or bodychecks allowed. Full protective equipment including CSA-approved helmet is strongly advised. Morning, noon-hour and evening ice times — generally an hour-and-a-half in length — are available at various rinks.
City of Calgary rinks offering adult (18 years and older) shinny are Joseph Kryczka and Ed Whalen Arenas in Southland Leisure Centre, Village Square Arenas, Stew Hendry / Henry Viney Arenas, Murray Copot Arena, Shouldice Arena and Optimist / George Blundun Arenas. Consult calgary.ca for admission prices, as well as shinny schedules and arena locations.
Shinny is available at numerous community rinks around the city, and rules are similar to those of city rinks. For example, Cardel Place in the city’s northeast offers shinny from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. daily and on Mondays at 10:30 p.m. Drop-in or reserve spots online for just $8. Incidentally, if you’ve pulled a groin at the faceoff, this one-stop recreation facility features a sports medicine clinic. Post-skate, you can also hit the aquatics centre, café or library.
Check calgaryarea.com for a full list of indoor and outdoor community rinks offering shinny.
The rules for skating are even simpler than for shinny. Just lace up your skates and go. And, no, there’s no bodychecks allowed here either. In fact, if you’re a lover and not a fighter, skating in a circles is the best hand-holdy winter date activity.
Public skating is available at all the City of Calgary indoor arenas mentioned above plus Rose Kohn / Jimmie Condon Arena. Consult calgary.ca for admission prices plus skate schedules and arena locations.
Generally open December through February, many outdoor city rinks also offer public skating hours. For its winter wonderland quality, try the tree-lined channels of Bowness Park Lagoon. Weather dependent, the lagoon is usually open mid-December through March, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Bring photo ID to rent skates, which are half price during the last hour of the day.
For a similarly scenic skate, visit Prairie Winds Park just east of the airport. It has a large ameba-shaped ice surface and a neat park setting. The rink is open mid-December through March from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
For its extended season (November to mid-March, thanks to refrigerated ice) and for the fun of pulling pirouettes in full view of the mayor’s office, there’s the Olympic Plaza skating rink. Hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, weather permitting.
Admission at all three rinks is gloriously free.
For a full list of indoor and outdoor community rinks offering public skating visit calgaryarea.com.
Built for the 1988 Winter Olympics, the U of C Olympic Oval (2500 University Drive N.W.) is a world-class speed-skating facility, yet slowpoke public skaters are also welcome to rip around its 400-metre-long track and ice surface. And did you know, “the fastest ice in the world” is made with demineralized water to reduce friction, thus making your wipeouts positively Olympian in duration? True.
Fortunately, you can fire up your speed skating ambition while saving your pride and purple keester. The Calgary Speedskating Association (calgaryspeedskating.ca) offers novice courses starting in February. The four-session courses cost just $50 and that fee can be put toward club membership. Learn all the short- and long-track basics including skating position (skating low), starts, pushing and crossover cornering, then test your abilities in mini races. Multiple coaches attend these sessions, ensuring skaters of all ability levels are looked after. For a prorated season fee, new members can also join the club’s ongoing skating program anytime.
Speed skate rentals are cheap, and while you’re there, have your own skates (speed or hockey) sharpened at the Olympic Oval Skate Shop for just $5.
DOWNHILL SKIING, SNOWBOARDING
While heavy traffic on the ski hill and snowboard facilities may be off-putting to some hardcore skiers and boarders, Canada Olympic Park’s high-calibre programs shouldn’t be dismissed. Located within city limits, it’s a convenient alternative to mountain resorts for the novice and veteran alike.
Almost 300,000 skiers and snowboarders visit COP each year. Though it’s an elite winter athletics facility, COP is also the public destination for in-city winter sports. A great way to get acquainted with the park’s many features, first-time visitors can sign up for a Park Passport and take a self-guided tour. Should commitment transcend curiosity, evening and weekend skiing and snowboarding lessons as well as a host of winter-sport programs are available.
Weather permitting, the park is scheduled to open November 19 and operate seven days a week until April 3. Rental equipment is available and the hill is served by multiple chair and carpet lifts. Snacks and hot drinks are available in the park’s food court and once you’ve had your fill of snow and speed, you can retire to the eightyeight lounge.
Craft your snowboard basics at the newly expanded Burton Progression Park, which includes a 200-foot halfpipe. Once you’ve got your start-up board skills wired tight, the Source Terrain Park features Western Canada’s sole superpipe, a 450-foot behemoth modelled after the Cypress Mountain 2010 Olympic Pipe. Snowboarders’ characteristically short attention spans are well served here, as the park’s other Greek-to-me features (mushroom jib, Source Monster Up box, Zaugg cut hip jump) are changed and rearranged every two weeks. Definitely not for beginners, COP’s Rockstar Halfpipe is the playground for high-performance athletes, including Canada’s national snowboard team.
Real fun-in-the-snow go-getters can sign up for the park’s volunteer program. Rack up 60 hours helping out with its programs and facilities and earn a season’s pass and additional goodies.
Access COP at the intersection of the Trans-Canada Highway and Bowfort Road S.W. For complete park maps, hours , admission information and snow conditions visit winsportcanada.ca and click on the COP link.
THE ULTIMATE SLEIGH RIDE
The fastest, most furious ride this side of Cape Canaveral is available from December 18 to February 13 on COP’s bobsleigh track. Each four-man sled is piloted by a professional during the unforgettable 60-second, 120 km/h downhill slide. Fourteen turns! Five Gs! Adult diaper optional! Your $165 fee (cheaper with group discount) includes a commemorative photo, a certificate and a T-shirt.
Call 403-247-5452 to reserve your spot.
COP really has it all: its fully lit and groomed cross-country ski trails run for two kilometres through varied terrain. For novice skiers, COP offers lunch-hour, evening and weekend instructional sessions. Check the COP website winsportcanada.ca for hours of operation.
The Calgary Ski Club (calgaryskiclub.org) also provides in-city cross-country dry-land training sessions for members and non-members (two sessions only, then you’ve got to pony up for a membership) through early December.
Helmet, goggles and handcrafted birch-wood sled, meet fuzzy toque, shit-eating grin and deconstructed cardboard box. The great leveller of winter sports requires nary a lesson, reservation nor admission fee; it’s just point and slide. Popular hills in all quadrants of the city see Crazy Carpet action from the first lingering snowfall.
For a full list of toboggan hills from Elliston Park and Kingsland Dry Pond to Confederation Park and Rundle Dry Pond, visit calgaryplus.ca and search “tobogganing-in-Calgary” or visit calgary.ca and click on “tobogganing” in the “park features and activities” menu.
If you’ve never gone ice fishing, it may have something to do with disastrously dumb ice fishing photos like this one: foundshit.com/ice-fish-spring-thaw. Or maybe because it’s cold out there on the ice and you wouldn’t know where or how to drill an ice hole (gesundheit!).
Well, according to Bow River Fly Fishing Adventures, the ice fishing experience can be a perfectly safe and rather cushy adventure. Unfortunately there’s no public ice fishing available within city limits. The sport is verboten on the Bow River and Glenmore Reservoir, but each winter, the company offers guided ice fishing trips to nearby regional lakes. Warm ice huts from which you can cozily catch trout and other fish, plus all the gear and know-how of a professional guide, are provided. One or two-person trips cost $295 for a half-day, $395 for a full day with each additional person paying $50. Enjoy a hot lunch for an additional $10.
For more information visit icefishingalberta.com.