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Ice skating on Lake Louise a unique alternative to snow sports

Hockey players make the most of the fading daylight as they skate on Lake Louise, Alta., Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019.
Hockey players make the most of the fading daylight as they skate on Lake Louise, Alta., Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Don’t ski? Snowshoeing leaves you cold? How about gliding on the jewel of the Canadian Rockies?

Whether it’s a bluebird day or weather like a shaken snow globe, skating on Lake Louise in Banff National Park is a Canadian postcard experience easily accessible from the visitor parking lot of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

READ MORE: The real picture behind all those shots of Alberta’s Moraine Lake

With Victoria Glacier as a backdrop, hockey games spring up organically. Some people just skate around with a hockey stick in their hand for the fun feel of it.

A little lake shinny is irresistible to the world’s top skiers in late November and early December when World Cup downhill races are held across the valley at the ski resort.

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Hockey players skate behind the Chateau Lake Louise on Lake Louise, Alta., Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019.
Hockey players skate behind the Chateau Lake Louise on Lake Louise, Alta., Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

In its 2016 list of the “world’s most dramatic water-walking spots,” CNN ranked Lake Louise No. 2 behind the Tower of London Ice Rink and ahead of the Eiffel Tower Ice Rink in Paris at No. 3.

If the surrounding peaks of Temple, White and Niblock weren’t picturesque enough, Lake Louise’s Ice Magic Festival ups the selfie stakes Jan. 17-27 when an ice-castle sculpture adorns the rink.

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Weather dictates the length of the skating season at Lake Louise, but from roughly December to April the lake ice nearest the hotel is cleared of snow daily and lit for night skating.

“One of the best times to go skating is at sunrise or sunset against the breathtaking mountain backdrop of Lake Louise,” says Chateau senior manager of marketing James Fraser.

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“An even better time to go is in the evening under the stars and moonlight.”

Bring your own skates, hockey sticks and helmets or rent a package from Chateau Ski & Snow.

Skate rentals are $20-$30 for adults and $10-$20 for children. A hockey stick is $5. A helmet is complimentary with a full package rental of skating gear.

Be aware Louise’s ice is created by Mother Nature and not in the controlled environment of an hockey arena.

Hockey players skate behind the Chateau Lake Louise on Lake Louise, Alta., Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019.
Hockey players skate behind the Chateau Lake Louise on Lake Louise, Alta., Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

READ MORE: Alberta government hopes to build off tourism boom in the Rockies

In the event of heavy snowfall, it can be difficult for plows to keep up and there may be rough patches and bumps underneath the snow.

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Once the lake surface begins to freeze in the fall, the hotel’s grounds team regularly tests ice thickness.

“They use an ice auger to safely drill through the ice surface and have measuring tools and an ice tracking document to monitor and record the ice thickness at various spots around the lake,” Fraser says.

“The standard measurements are three inches of ice for a single person to walk on it, eleven inches of ice for it to support the machinery to build the ice rinks, and twenty inches of ice for it to support the ice castle that is built every winter, just before Christmas.”

READ MORE: Tourists asked to plan ahead due to summer congestion in the mountains

It’s a skater’s bonanza when freezing temperatures provide the requisite ice thickness before the big snows arrive.

Those conditions open up more skating terrain on a lake that reflects the surrounding peaks like a mirror.

“This is a rare occurrence, happening usually once every three or four years,” Fraser says. “The conditions have to be just right, and Mother Nature needs to co-operate to have the lake freeze, but allow enough time to skate on it before the next snowfall.

“We advise guests and visitors to follow all safety warnings. Although the ice is frozen, it may not be thick enough to support multiple skaters on the ice.

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“We do not build the skating rinks and officially open them until we are sure it’s safe.”

Click to play video 'The real picture behind all those shots of Moraine Lake' The real picture behind all those shots of Moraine Lake
The real picture behind all those shots of Moraine Lake