We all know what ice skating is. With regards to endorsing the activity as a good way to spend an afternoon with a newly met date or loved one — which it is — there is probably not much use in describing it. Instead, the idea here is to remind people that it exists and that it exists for about seven months out of the year in Edmonton, a fact that might be depressing for what else it implies. Winters are harsh, dark, and long, but some of the greatest respites are the few activities that are exclusive to such conditions. Take advantage of the cold, I say.
The upside to Edmonton’s weather is that winter activities are ingrained in public life: you are always close to a public skating rink no matter where you live, work, or go to school, even if you don’t know it.
Just within walking distance of MacEwan University, for example, there are rinks at the Downtown Community Arena, Victoria Park, the Glenora Community Hall, the Queen Mary Park Community League, and the one in front of city hall that is converted from the wading pool for the winter season. This is in the city center, where flat, open spaces are relatively scarce. Predominantly residential areas tend to have even larger concentrations of rinks. The community league of almost every neighbourhood in the city has one — sometimes two if they keep an outdoor rink for casual skaters aside from the indoor, professional, hockey ready ones.
Unless you are working on perfecting your Olympic figure skating routine and don’t want to shatter your ankle landing on a tiny imperfection that formed when a stray twig was frozen in the ice partway through construction, outdoor rinks provide a better experience than indoor ones. Maybe it’s a little purist, but there’s something about being out in the winter climate, in all its biocidal glory, that makes the experience much more enjoyable. Skating outside often involves other winter traditions like snowballs and hot chocolate. Luckily, Edmonton’s record-setting urban park space easily accommodates a ton of reasonably distributed outdoor rinks. Some of the more popular ones, aside from the aforementioned two at city hall and Victoria Park, are at Jackie Parker Park, Rundle Park, Castle Downs Park, and Hawrelak Park, where one can also skate on the wide-open frozen lake from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day — and again, there are functionally infinite more dotting the outer urban communities all over the city.
The location of each of Edmonton’s ice rinks can be found on the City of Edmonton website (here), along with a detailed weekly schedule that lists hours. It’s critical to check the hours of whichever rink you’re heading to before you go, especially if it’s at a community league because they often are not open every day, close relatively early, and have hours set aside for specific groups like parents with children.
Here’s the best part about public rinks: they will cost you exactly as much as public libraries, public attorneys, and as much as public transit would in a just world — which is to say, they will cost you nothing. No public rinks in Edmonton charge an admission fee.
Obviously, some equipment is required. If you don’t own a pair of skates, you can pick some up for around $50 new — don’t buy them for less or your feet will never forgive you — or you can rent some. Hawrelak Park has its own rental service, as does city hall and some of the local indoor rinks, or you can head over to Totem Outdoor Outfitters on the corner of 99 Street and 75 Avenue, which is not attached to a rink but tends to have the cheapest rates.
If you’ve never skated before, there are several companies and plenty of people on Kijiji offering lessons, but truly the best way to learn is just to get out on the ice with someone who has even a basic understanding of how to do it. Only one half of your group needs to have skated before to make it an enjoyable and potentially educational experience, and while everyone will attest that sore tailbones are an inescapable byproduct of the learning process, they are well worth it. If both of you already know how to skate, well then, uh, great. Save your money, bundle up, and hit the ice.