Our quest for winter family fun took us to The Forks, Winnipeg just recently. It was the first warm winter day in January and the place was packed! It was really great to see so many people enjoying the free activities with their kids. If you've never been to The Forks, (officially the Red River Mutual Trail) to skate I can offer you a few tips.
1) Go early. At 10AM on weekends you will still find free parking but know that the parkade fills up quickly. After that you might find convenient meter parking, but that's $4 per two hours on your credit card or by coins. By 1pm on weekends, you'll be walking from parking lots as far as the baseball stadium. Free family programming/organized events are held Sundays 1:30-3:30pm. And the better the weather, the more people that are in attendance.
2) Bring your own equipment if you have it. (Skate rentals are $3 for children, or $5 for adults, subject to availability.) Also, bring a backpack to tote your boots in. Some people leave their boots in the warming huts or under benches where you put your skates on, but this seems high risk. Since we forgot a backpack that day, we opted to bury the boots (upside down) in the snowbank behind the warming hut. It was a creative and effective solution, masterminded by my son. Our boots were still there 2 hours later when we were done skating for the day.
3) Bring a stick and puck if you like. There are specific hockey areas and nets.
4) The ice is groomed, but it is also river ice (not indoor rink ice) and used by thousands of people. This means you should bring a helmet even if you think you are an accomplished skater. You are at risk of catching a skate in chips, cracks, soft spots and random debris. Risk of falling is high. You can check out the reported ice conditions at The Forks website. (www.theforks.com) I have found the ice under the bridges to be particularly rough and hazardous.
5) There is more than just the river to skate on. There are iced sidewalk trails which lead you several kilometres around the park site, over bridges and down to the Esplanade Riel Bridge as well. In fact, I'll let you in on a secret. The ice in front of the Scotiabank Stage, or in the 'festival park' area is hardly used. It was in excellent condition and even had music for our skating enjoyment. We were there nearly an hour and maybe a dozen people or so were in sight, as opposed to the thousands just on the other side of the buildings on the river.
6) The coffee shop in the Johnson Terminal, first floor has fantastic cappuccinos. I like mine with a shot of coconut syrup. And if you're lucky enough to get a seat in their sunny window, you will have an ideal view of the skating oval and main plaza. A perfect place to people watch and soak in the perfection that is in my opinion, one of the greatest public spaces in our province.
7) Making a weekend of it? Or why not make your own overnight stay-cation and book a room at the Inn at The Forks during the week? Rates are as low as $169 per night. The location and convenience gets 5 stars for sure. I'm a big fan. You are also a hop and a skip out the front door to the Children's Museum. www.childrensmuseum.com Admission is $11 per person, regardless of age. And now, until January 31st admission to the neighbouring Canadian Museum for Human Rights (www.humanrights.ca) is just $5.
See for yourself why everyone is calling Winnipeg, one of the hottest destinations and calling The Forks a must-see attraction in 2017.
Check out these video clips of action from in, and around the forks.
View of the main skating area. Red River Mutual Trail
Best kept secret, crowd free skating location at The Forks.