Sunday, January 27, 2013

Your Guide to an Awesome Day on the Rideau Canal

If you've ever read my other posts in this blog, you'll know that I love the Rideau Canal.  Ordinarily, you'll find me using the paths that run along it on sunny, warm days from spring til fall.  As one who gets cold if it's less than 25°C, I don't spent a great deal of time outside in the Canadian winter.  There is one activity, however, that can get me out on some pretty chilly days - skating!

Having grown up in a small town in Canada, skating was one of the highlights of winter.  The neighbourhood rink was a hub of childhood social activity.  Now that I'm older, I've outgrown the neighbourhood rink, but lucky for me, the canal is a source of winter fun for all ages. 

Top 5 Reasons Skating on the Canal is Super Awesome

1. Skating is Great Exercise: Skating at a moderate pace burns as many calories as doing high impact aerobics [1]. Unless you're an avid inline skater, ice skating will challenge muscles you don't frequently use. Skating utilizes many leg muscles, in particular muscles in the hip joints - you're likely to feel the burn in the adductors, glutes, and quads.  How's your core strength?  While skating, the upper body is held in a forward position, engaging your core muscles. 

2. Skating Keeps you Warm: The great side effect of burning calories is the heat it generates. Like most Canadians, I've spent my fair share of time skiing, I even took up snowboarding last year.  While these activities can keep you warm when you're on the slopes, waiting in lift lines and frigid cold breezes on the chair lifts are less than pleasant.

3. It's Cheap: Skating requires minimal equipment - a pair of skates and appropriate winter clothing.  If you're living in or visiting Canada in the winter, you already have the clothing covered (or at least you should).  Skates are cheap to rent or purchase (especially if you buy second-hand).  And oh yeah, access to the canal is free - no pricey lift passes.  

4. It's Pretty Safe: Sure, you're on ice, and it's possible to take a nasty spill.  But compared to the high rates of hospitalizations that originate on the slopes [2], a few bruises aren't so bad.  And I haven't researched  the statistics, but I'll wager a guess that no one has ever been lost in the wilderness on a skating expedition [3].

5. It's Patriotic:  Maybe not patriotic in the most traditional sense, but few things are more Canadian than lacing up a pair of skates for some fun with friends on an outdoor rink - the largest one in the world.  Add in a visit to the Beavertails shack, a cup of hot chocolate and you've got yourself an idyllic Canadian experience unlike any other.

Now that you're thoroughly convinced that you're overdue for a skate, here are some tips to make your visit to the canal perfect.

Tips for a Perfect Day on the Canal

1. Dress Appropriately: Unless you're visiting the canal with wee ones, you can expect to sweat.  Wear moisture-wicking base layers, and loose outer layers.  If it's a chilly day, track pants to keep the wind at bay are a good idea.  Unless it's very cold, (or you're following new skaters at their pace), snow pants are likely to be too warm.  Depending on the wind direction, some sections of the canal can be very brisk - make sure you have a scarf to protect your face from biting winds.  If you have new skaters, a helmet is advisable.  The most serious injury you're likely to sustain while skating is a head injury.  Hockey and skiing helmets are both designed for multiple impacts and are best for skating (and tobogganing too)[4].  Bike helmets are designed to absorb the impact from a single blow, and are therefore less suitable (but still better than nothing).  Helmets can also be rented at the canal.  Are you planning on skating to Rideau, then heading to the byward market or downtown for some on-foot touristing activity?  If so, bringing an spare dry t-shirt is a good idea - sweat gets mighty chilly when you cool down.

2. Drink Water: Skating is a cardiovascular activity.  When it's cold you may feel less compelled to drink water, but it is just as important to stay hydrated during winter activities as it is in the summer.  Bring a water bottle!

3. Bring Cash: How else do you plan to pay for your Beavertail?  (A classic Cinnamon Sugar or Killaloe Sunrise will cost you $4 on the canal, and they don't take debit).

4. Wear a Backpack: Large enough for your skates and/or boots.  While people frequently just leave their boots by the bench they lace up at (totally safe- it would be un-Canadian to steal someone's boots!), if you plan on skating someplace and then getting off the ice to walk around (say, for a tour of the ice sculptures), you'll need your footwear with you.  It's also a handy place to put your water bottle and dry t-shirt, or anything else you might want if you're making a day of it.

5. Sharpen Your Skates: Preferably before you get to the canal, though there is skate sharpening at the canal.  Taking your skates to be sharpened beforehand will save you time, and will likely be cheaper elsewhere.  Also, dull skates really suck.

6. Check the Conditions: The skateway's website has the latest updates on ice conditions, which sections are open and closed, and where the best (and worst) skating can be had.  Outdoor rinks are at the mercy of mother nature, and conditions can change quickly - best look ahead and know what to expect.

Have any other great tips for an awesome day of skating?  Leave them in the comments!

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