Old time hockey: arenas are nice, but it’s hard to beat a frozen lake. JEFF GAYE

If ever there was a year when we needed decent winter weather, this is it. So far, so good.

With indoor gathering severely restricted, people are looking for ways to get outside. Cross-country ski clubs are growing, people are out walking, outdoor rinks are popular, and the fun of a frozen lake has never been more welcome.

Golf courses and parks offer skiing opportunities, if you have the gear. Cross-country skiing has become so popular it’s almost impossible to buy equipment. 

Brian and Deb Hamilton operate Hamilton House bed and breakfast in Cherry Grove. They have had groomed trails and rental equipment for years, but there has never been uptake like they’ve seen this year.

“It’s been absolutely incredible,” Brian said. “We’ve been doing this for about 18 years now. And we went from having three or four skiers in a day on the weekend to 25 a day now.”

He says the rental equipment makes it attractive for people to try the sport without investing in their own gear. But, he says, clubs across the Lakeland are seeing a boom in interest.

“For years we tried to build up the club around here and now that’s finally getting a push from Les and Sarah Parsons in Bonnyville, they’ve got the Lakeland Nordic Club going. And then we’ve got a Cold Lake one going now, too. Faye Woods is running it and she’s probably got 20 or 30 members, and we used to struggle to keep 12,” he said.

“And then St. Paul. We’re affiliated with Lakeland Cross-Country Ski Club now, too. And they would keep 20 or 25 down there and they’re probably pushing 50 or 60. So it’s really, really helping get people out.”

Being able to keep your distance and breathe fresh air is a big part of the attraction during the pandemic. People are snowmobiling and tobogganing, and many are enjoying skiing and other winter activities at Kinosoo Ridge in the M.D. of Bonnyville.

And Cold Lake has frozen flat, with little snow cover. Mayor Craig Copeland credits “local heroes” for clearing rinks and skating paths on the lake ice. Hundreds of people were out on the lake on Sunday. 

“It’s a unique winter. There’s rinks from over by the marina, I see some people have made rinks along Lakeshore Drive, off Kinosoo Beach and all the way to Horseshoe Bay,” he said. City-operated surfaces like outdoor hockey rinks and the oval at the Energy Centre have also been popular.

Copeland said the number of people fishing this winter is up 30 or 40 per cent.

“I’ve never seen so many people out and about,” he said, “and I think it’s fantastic.”

With weather just below freezing, people have been out skiing, skating, and sledding in the fresh air. Photos by jEFF GAYE