Picture a quintessential Canadian winter scene, snow covered evergreens as far as the eye can see, big fluffy snowflakes falling and a beautiful torch lit skating trail winding through the middle of it all. And there you have the Arrowhead Provincial Park Ice Skating Trail. It continues to be named as one of the top winter experiences in Canada, it even makes BlogTO’s top skating trails in Toronto list despite being 200 km away! So last winter, we hopped onto one of Parkbus’ newly scheduled winter bus trips to see it for ourselves.
I remember my first ice skating experience. Down at the local leisure centre, it was traumatic, and of course, to make things worse, my sister took to it like a fish to water as she did with everything. Over the years, there would be the occasional skating experience, from the school trips which normally ended with two girls holding each hand pulling me along (there were some perks then), to gingerly navigating the outdoor rink in Cambridge.
But I was doing really well in life at largely avoiding the stupid habit of putting a thin piece of metal on my feet and stepping onto ice. Then we moved to Canada, and it all changed.
Emma made us go skating in our first winter here. It was terrifying, largely because unlike British rinks, Canadian ones have nothing to hold onto. Canadians don’t need anything to hold onto. They were born to skate. Little children whizz past you. They don’t look large enough to talk or walk properly, but can still skate faster than you ever will.
We headed into our second winter, and Emma’s determination to get us onto the ice hadn’t ceased, and so she booked us into some skating lessons. The first one was awful, but I slowly got better. At the same, the lessons had the opposite effect on Emma, whose confidence and competency plummeted!
Off to Arrowhead we headed, to skate round their 1.3km skating trail that loops through the snow covered forest. Joining plenty of others, we found a spot on some outdoor benches around a campfire to change into our skates. Whilst our boots had nicely crushed the snow beneath our feet, as soon as we stood up on our skates and tried to walk to the skating trail, they sliced through the snow onto the hard, undulating sheet of ice beneath. Having almost ended up in the campfire, we staggered to the start of the trail, but crawling the 5 metres would seriously have been easier.
Emma was the first victim, promptly falling on her bum as we reached the ice. Back on her feet, and off we went, slowly, so slowly, completing our first lap of the trail. Along the way, Canadians, old and young, repeatedly overtook us as they zoomed around the loop.
Things hadn’t been going too badly though since Emma’s fall at the start. The first third of the trail is slightly uphill, the middle section flattens out, before the final third is a slight downhill section back to the start. I started skating down the hill, knowing that I didn’t need to skate too hard, as the gradient would do the rest.
My speed started to pick up. I was comfortable with that. But then it continued to get faster. Hmm. This was faster than what I was comfortable with, and despite my best efforts to slow down, it was having no effect.
I could see the start of the trail fast approaching, a 90 degree left turn. Then I spotted an area where the snowbanks lining the trail had been cleared on the right. So, now I had a decision to make. Clearly I wasn’t going to be able to stop or slow down, so either I crash into the cleared snow where there weren’t too many people around, or I try to make the corner. The corner posed too many risks. I’d probably end up not making it and going straight on, head first into a tree, but even if I could make it, I’d have to somehow at high speed weave around all the people starting off on their skate.
So I crashed.
This wasn’t as comfortable as I thought it would be, as I ended up doing the splits over a snow bank. But I was alive, and in one piece, and no one was standing around laughing at me, so all was good. I looked up the hill, and here came Emma, inching down it slower than a glacier.
Onto our second lap we went, and I skated slightly ahead of Emma.
I turned round, and there was Emma, flat on stomach, flailing around on the ice like a beached whale. I wanted to skate across to help her, but to do so would have been like running across a highway, as lanes upon lanes of fast moving Canadian skaters beared down on us, and I didn’t fancy getting wiped out by one. Fortunately, a nice Canadian lady stopped and helped Emma to her feet, probably thinking how useless I was, just standing there, watching, not doing anything, comparing Emma to a beached whale.
Off we went again, Emma’s knees throbbing from their hard, sudden collision with the ice. Now, back at the top of the hill, Emma’s words of advice rung in my ears. “Make the pizza slice with your feet to slow down”. Fat load of good that did, and so I expertly crashed into the snow at the bottom of hill again.
By now Emma had had enough, however, I was determined to complete one loop of the trail without needing to dive into the snow to stop. Third time lucky I guess, as I completed the whole, loop, downhill section too, without once falling over or crashing!
Here’s a short and sweet video of our time skating at Arrowhead!
Visiting the Skating Trail at Arrowhead
- The skating trail can get very busy at weekends, Ontario Parks has some great tips on the best times to go to avoid the crowds.
- Skates can be rented from the Park for $10 for three hours.
- Parkbus runs several trips throughout the winter to Arrowhead. A return ticket costs $79, and includes your park entry fee as well as a ski trail pass.
- If you chose to drive, you’ll need to purchase a $17 daily vehicle pass to enter the park.
We were delighted that this post was featured in Canadian Affair’s article on the best places to skate in Canada.