Posted by: Graeme Leathem
For Canadian children, learning to ice skate is a rite of passage. At least that’s what my father thought when we immigrated here from Northern Ireland so as a kid I was destined to learn two things— how to kick a soccer ball, and how to ice skate.
I laced up my first pair of skates around age 5 and I vividly remember those first few, wobbling steps onto the ice. Well, actually what remember most vividly are the horrendous plaid pants my skating instructor always wore while encouraging me to push him around the ice. Those pants are literally seared into my mind—plaid tweed featuring different hues of brown and green mixed with bright yellow highlights. Hideous, bordering on frightening.
It worked however—after a few lessons of pushing I just wanted to be as far away from those terrible plaid slacks as possible, so I learned to skate. This led to a very Canadian childhood of skating and playing hockey on indoor rinks, outdoor ponds and, once, a frozen mud puddle in a parking lot (not the best for your skate blades.)
Now that I have kids, sharing my passion for the mountains gets me the most stoked but, like my father before me, I also want them to experience that old Canadian rite of passage. And Whistler presents a few more ice skating options and amenities than my old man ever had.
The recently opened skating rink at Whistler Olympic Plaza is the best spot in town for young children. There are no hockey sticks or figure skating allowed and plenty of push bars for novices of all ages. It’s an outdoor rink so you can enjoy the classic Canadian skating experience but the central Whistler Village location means an impromptu family skate is easy and quick. The open-air rink does have a covered roof which ensures a nice smooth skating surface, although my 4-year-old daughter is in love with the ice path that meanders around the plaza’s great lawn—she would literally do laps on it all day if I let her. Skating at the Whistler Olympic Plaza is totally free and they offer $5 skate rentals and free helmet rentals so anyone can lace up a bit of Canadiana. Open 11am- 9pm.
As her ice skills progressed, my daughter began preferring the Meadow Park Sport Centre which features an NHL-sized rink with public skating available daily between noon and 3 PM. Hockey is a natural progression once you master the feel of ice skating and with about 1/3 of the ice surface is cordoned off Meadow Park has two nets and free sticks so you can play a fun game of shinny with the kids. My daughter’s main motivation to learn to skate without a push bar was so she could get a hockey stick and play with the boys at Meadow Park. Plus the cafeteria French fries are the best in town.
Of course, the most classic form of Canadian skating is out on a frozen pond or lake. Not much compares to a clear day of skating on Green Lake or Alta Lake surrounded by snowy mountains, friends and family. The ice may be a little rougher than an indoor rink but the fresh air, views and lack of boards or boundaries make up for it. It’s all about the freedom of the glide.
Two important things to remember—always play safe when skating on natural ice. Never skate alone and make sure the ice is at least 6 inches thick. Other than that, regardless of where you lace ‘em up, make sure to choose some decent skating pants—no plaids!
Here's a fun little video of some kids getting the hang of it at the Whistler Olympic Plaza