By Florie Moran
This weekend I had one of my most Canadian experiences to date: ice skating on a frozen lake in the Rocky Mountains. Any Canadian I’ve mentioned this to has been distinctly underwhelmed since they practically learn to walk on skates, but this British lass was blown away. The idea of lakes even freezing over seemed far-fetched, let alone with ice over 4 foot deep and able to carry the weight of a friendly hockey game on its surface. Not just one hockey game, but three, with participants bringing along their own snow shovels, beers, and camping chairs to clear a makeshift pitch and set up camp for the afternoon. Might I add that it was -8ºC, which was described by many as ‘mild’ for this time of year. I continue to marvel at Canadian constitutions.
Might I add that it was -8ºC, which was described by many as ‘mild’ for this time of year.
We rented our skates from the University Outdoor Centre – where you can quite easily rent skis, canoes, and climbing equipment at a ‘student rate’ – and hopped in the car to Banff, the national park a mere hour off campus. Reaching our destination of Two Jack Lake, we quickly slipped our way out onto nature’s ice rink; significantly more uneven and bumpy than those that pop up around England, conveniently equipped with a handrail and artificial penguins to cling onto.
Natural ice around a lake’s edge is in constant motion, slowly forming and breaking apart as you semi-confidently glide across its surface
Plus, of course, natural ice around a lake’s edge is in constant motion, slowly forming and breaking apart as you semi-confidently glide across its surface. It was hard to get used to the regular sound of cracking beneath your feet or the sudden change in texture from glass-like to slush-puppy. The adrenaline really got going when my confident, Montanan, outdoorsy flatmate’s face fell at the sound of a particularly deep crack. It’s safe to say that I breathed a sigh of relief when we made it back to hard ground. Nevertheless, nervously shuffling across a dubiously solid lake was made all the more enjoyable by the snow-capped mountains and blue skies that surrounded us. It beats London’s Winter Wonderland any day.
The adrenaline really got going when my confident, Montanan, outdoorsy flatmate’s face fell at the sound of a particularly deep crack
Skating in every layer of clothing I own aside, a few days later I encountered Calgary’s own unique weather phenomena: a chinook. This is an indigenous word meaning ‘snoweater’, which does just that. Chinooks are hot winds that come down to the prairies from the mountains and melt the city’s snow by raising the outrageously low temperatures to something more bearable. I’ve heard that the sweetest deal is a chinook that turns a -20ºC day into a positive 20ºC overnight. There are no incremental changes over here. Alberta weather does not mess around.
Alberta weather does not mess around.
So it looks like my fear of the plummeting cold in February might be made a little easier by a combination of global warming and the occasional chinook to up my vitamin D intake. I’ll be keeping you posted on my experience of this chilly climate to put any of your winter blues into perspective. I’m already wearing my ski jacket to lectures so it seems as if thermal underwear is unfortunately in my near future.
Photographs by Florie Moran