Don’t worry if you can’t do a camel or salchow. Or if you don’t even know what those are. Even novice skaters can take a spin around one of these natural ice rinks for some fresh air and exercise, or to just revel in their icy beauty.
Whether you skate against a backdrop of remote mountains or on a frozen pond in a public park, be sure the ice is considered safe before you begin. Check with authorities and/or outfitters, and know what to do in case of an emergency. Remember, snow can hide ice that is weakening or melting. And while skating under the stars sounds romantic, if you can’t see where you’re going, you could hit a treacherous hole or debris. Well-lit ice is a better choice.
Ice Rinks in Alberta, Canada
Natural ice skating areas sparkle all around Alberta. Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise maintains the ice on Lake Louise for skaters, and every year, a team from the resort creates an ice castle from huge blocks of ice. (You can even skate in and out of the castle.) The view is spectacular from the rink; you can see Victoria Glacier and snowy caps of the Rocky Mountains. Visitors can skate from mid-December to mid-April, as long as the weather conditions are favorable, and outdoor flood lights keep the ice illuminated until 11 p.m.
Sean Thonson/Travel Alberta
During the peak winter months, you can find many more places to strap on your skates in Alberta’s national parks. Look beneath your feet, and you may see fish swimming in very deep spots, or even rocks suspended in the clear ice. Other don’t-miss skating spots include Lake Mildred and Talbot Lake, in Jasper National Park and Carrot Creek and Johnson Lake in Banff National Park.
Jon Sinclair Photo/Jasper National Park, Lake Talbot
Mirror Lake, Lake Placid, NY
Located in the alpine village of Lake Placid, in the Adirondack Mountains, Mirror Lakeoffers 122 acres of smooth skating and other cold-weather fun. A 2-mile long ice track around the lake is kept plowed, but it’s open only when the ice is thick enough to be safe. Then it’s available for public use, 24/7. The Lake Placid parks department also keeps an area cleared for skaters and hockey enthusiasts near the town beach; the track is accessible from it.
The Lake Champlain region, on the Adirondacks coast, also offers great skating. The lake itself stretches into Vermont, New York and Quebec.
Adirondacks Regional Tourism Council/AdirondacksUSA
Sweden’s biggest lake spills over into three provinces: Vastergotland, Dalsland and Varnland. It’s also the third largest lake in Europe, covering some 2,183 square miles, with more than 22,000 islands. The ice on this lake isn’t groomed or maintained, but the rugged, natural beauty of the area makes it a skaters’ paradise. Catch a sunset here, if you can; the colors are spectacular.
Helena Wahlman/Imagebank Sweden
Ice Rinks in Switzerland
Lake Joux, or Lac de Joux, is located in the Lake Geneva region, in the Joura mountain range between northwestern Switzerland and France. Once the temperatures drop, the boaters and water skiers disappear, making way for ice skaters and ice walkers. The lake has a surface area of about six square miles, and it’s in a valley of the same name, so you’ll find plenty of unspoiled beauty in the woodlands and gently rolling hills.
Salis Romano/Switzerland Tourism
Once it’s frozen, Lake Silvaplana, in Grison, draws sports enthusiasts from across Switzerland and around the world. The ice has to be snow-free for visitors to skate, but floodlights come on in the evenings to let them enjoy extended hours. Strong winds typically kick up around midday around the lake, which explains why snow kiting, also known as kite skiing, is said to have originated here.
Lake Weissensee, Carinthia, Austria
Beginners are welcome at Lake Weissensee, in the Eastern Alps of southern Austria, where experienced instructors lead a seasonal Nature Ice Skating School and an Ice Skating Academy. This groomed, natural ice surface is usually available for skating from mid-December to early March. It offers over 2-1/2 miles of skating track, as well as round ice skating rinks, stock sport lanes, and training courses for ice skating and speed skating.
Shichahai Lake, Beijing, China
This skating area, located in the northwest part of Beijing, is made up of three lakes, and it’s very popular with children, thanks to its 18-foot long ice slide. Don’t be surprised if you see more than ice skaters here. Ice bikes, ice bumper cars, ice boats and even ice chairs are popular, too. Night skating is also available. In 2013, CNN ranked the Shichahai Lake rink, which usually opens in mid to late December, as one of the world’s ten most beautiful.
Small ponds may not have the wow-power of frozen lakes, but don’t overlook them when you’re ready to hit the ice. Mill Pond Park, located in the York region of Ontario, and also part of the greater Toronto area, is a popular place to ice skate or shoot a hockey puck around. Just be sure to check the signs, currently posted at the south end of the pond, to see if the ice is considered safe for use.
David West, West Photo/Town of Richmond Hill/Toronto Tourism