As we all know, Columbia Lake settles into a frozen state for at least four months of the year. How it sets up for skating is often dependent on the first freeze. Was it cold and dry or was it wet and snowy? The best ice forms when we get a good, dry, cold snap without any precipitation or wind. The ice surface forms smoothly with few surface imperfections to trip over. If it remains cold, any snow that falls in weeks to come gets blown away leaving a smooth glassy surface.
These are the best conditions for ice skating. When this happens, you can often skate the entire length of lake and enjoy long smooth glides.
Of course, things can go terribly wrong if the weather warms up to the point that wet snow, or (shudder) rain falls on the ice. Clumps of snow on the ice melt and freeze to the ice leaving a pebbly, pock marked surface. When this happens there isn’t much you can do but breathe a heavy sigh and hope for the better ice next year.
Right below Columbia Ridge you often see a mix of ice and drifts of snow. Each year ice rinks are cleared and trails plowed for skating. But, as mentioned, the quality of the skating experience is fully dependent on the initial freeze. Maybe in the future we can get a pump down on the lake and flood a section for a smoother rink.
From my experience, the best place to ice skate on Columbia Lake is at the south end of the lake at the provincial park. Here the ice is smooth and usually snow free. The further down the lake you progress the lumpier it seems to become. Just be careful driving down to the parking lot as the road can be quite treacherous. I often park at the top and walk down. Bobsledding uncontrollably down the hill in a pickup isnÂ’t my idea of a relaxing time. And, if I do make it down, it is always questionable whether I will get back out again.
The Whiteway is turning into a full on winter recreational venue. Not only are there plowed ice skating paths, they are expanding this year with numerous rinks for public skating and ice hockey. It is great to see the community of Invermere pulling together to create such a wonderful winter experience for residents and visitors alike.
The lake isn’t a man made skating rink. Remember this. Weather conditions, where you are and temperature can all affect the quality of ice below your feet. There are warm springs in Columbia that are often found along the shoreline that can produce thinner ice. Always be aware of your surroundings and check the ice depth, especially early in the season, before venturing out. For more information on ice safety, check out this link to the Canadian Red Cross Web page. They have a ton of information when playing on ice. You can find their website here.
All you really need is a pair of skates and you are good to go. Hockey skates and figure skates both work well but if you really want to rip up the lake, consider a pair of speed skates or a hybrid called the Nordic Skater. Speed skates can be costly but the Nordic Skater, designed in Sweden where snow and ice culture is engrained in every living soul, was invented for outdoor skating and is relatively inexpensive.
The Nordic Skater is designed for use on open ice and for long distance cross country skating. These blades are mounted onto a plate that supports the most common cross country bindings allowing you to wear your comfy XC ski boots instead of a cold leather skate. The blades themselves are longer and flatter than a hockey blade for better glide but have a turned up tip to get over the occasional rough patch of ice that you may encounter. I have been wanting to get a set of these babies for a few years now but haven’t quite made the plunge yet. The price range varies from $130 to $300 if you have boots. You will spend more if you want a new set of boots as well. If you are interested, check out the Web page here.
It is a busy, disorganized webpage but has some good information on it. Look for the link that says “Nordic Skate Homepage”. This will take you to a little video that will give you some more information and get you enthused to get out on the ice. The shop is in the US and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t find any distributors in Canada for this product.