The good ol’ hockey game is usually the best game Canadians can name this time of year.
But tension grows as pandemic-weary skaters look to set foot on the ice.
Indeed, the atmosphere at Calgary’s outdoor skating areas will be slightly different this winter.
In addition to health guidelines that blade-booted recreationalists will need to adhere to, there is likely to be an uptick in attendance at rinks and ponds in the months ahead.
“With COVID-19 reducing the amount of indoor recreational opportunities available, we expect to see more Calgarians taking advantage of the many outdoor amenities the city has to offer, including outdoor skating rinks,” says a Calgary Parks representative, who asked not to be identified.
The City of Calgary maintains a number of outdoor skating areas, including Big Marlborough Park, Bowness Park Lagoon, Carburn Park, Glenmore Ice Trail, Prairie Winds Park, Prince’s Island Lagoon, Thomson Family Park and Olympic Plaza. These are free of charge and available for public use.
More than 50 other rinks are operated through the Adopt-a-Rink program, which sees volunteers flood and maintain ice sheets across the city. These rinks are for recreational skating only – no hockey equipment or games allowed (check the City of Calgary website for a full list).
On top of that, there are community-run rinks that are cared for by neighbourhood helpers. These include a number of skating trails and ice surfaces in lake communities that are generally only open to residents of those neighbourhoods. Rules regarding pleasure skating and hockey use vary from rink to rink.
“Currently, provincial guidance does not limit the use of outdoor skating rinks and amenities for public skating. To provide more opportunities for outdoor recreation, Calgary Parks is working to open all city-run outdoor ice surfaces before the end of 2020. However, the City (of Calgary) will adjust plans if needed in order to continue to adhere to provincial guidelines,” says the Calgary Parks representative.
Rinks are typically open from late December through February, depending on the weather, but Olympic Plaza is a refrigerated surface that is already welcoming skaters.
Before you grab your pucks and go bursting up, however, you’ll want to keep an eye on health guidelines in your area.
Skaters are asked to maintain a distance of at least two metres – the average length of an adult hockey stick – between themselves and others. If you are unable to keep a safe distance, wear a face covering.
As well, be mindful of where you’re putting your skates on and taking them off. Rather than crowding into heated shacks, consider gearing up in the parking lot or other outdoor locations near the rink. And, if you’re playing shinny this winter, maybe avoid the “sticks in the middle” routine of selecting teams, along with other potentially unnecessary touch points between participants.
Authorities are currently taking an education-first approach regarding violations of COVID-19 public health orders, including regulations related to gathering size, face coverings and physical distancing.
“Health and safety are the top priorities for The City of Calgary when making decisions about opening indoor and outdoor facilities and amenities,” says the Calgary Parks rep.
“This includes following provincial guidance while safely offering recreation and fitness opportunities to citizens across Calgary, as they contribute greatly to the overall health and well-being of individuals, families and communities.”
Ian Wilson is the co-founder of Alberta Dugout Stories, a website that spotlights the sport of baseball in the province. When the diamonds get too snow-covered, he heads outside and straps on his snowshoes or his skates.