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River skating at The Forks begins

Cold snap freezes port area

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Thanks to the recent cold weather, Winnipeggers can now skate on a small portion of the Assiniboine River at The Forks. 

For now, only two hockey rinks in what is known as the Port Area are open, but officials hope more of the river trail will be ready to go in the coming days.

"We are very excited to have the first section of the river trail open before the new year this season," said Paul Jordan, chief operating officer, The Forks.

"Thanks to a few cold snaps, the river has been freezing nicely. It’s too soon to tell exactly how far the trails will go this year, but we are optimistic."

Plans this year are to groom trails along both the Red and Assiniboine rivers.

"Last year’s milder temperatures meant the Assiniboine didn’t freeze, and we were unable to make much of a trail in that direction," said Jordan.

"We’re hoping for a better freeze down the Assiniboine this year. So far, things are looking pretty good. The river trail is constantly growing and evolving, bringing the rivers to life in Winnipeg over the winter months. We’re looking forward to what 2013’s river trail will bring." 

Winnipeg’s river trail holds the Guinness World Record for longest naturally frozen skating trail in the world. The mark — 8.54 kilometres — was set in 2008. It was later surpassed, albeit unofficially.

The ice rinks and trails are groomed daily with a Zamboni and condition updates can be found at theforks.com/rivertrail.

Today at The Forks, it might be -24 C outside but the sun is out and so are the last-minute shoppers and a few brave skaters this Christmas Eve.

Chae-Won Yoon, 11, skated around the rink in wide circles, trying out her new skates. 

"We came to Canada from Korea in September," said Yoon. "This is my first time at The Forks. My family thought it would be a fun way to spend Christmas Eve."

Spending the day at The Forks is also how Lisa Nemeth, her son Kyler and daughter Myka spent their morning.

"My sister is visiting from Toronto and we usually do a skate around Christmas together. We'll wait for the river trail to open and when it does, we'll skate that, too," said Nemeth.

Inside The Forks Market, Christmas Eve shoppers were still out in full force.

Laurel Basaraba, manager of Forks Trading Company, said while the busiest day of the season for sales was last Saturday, today is shaping up to be hectic as well. 

"Today started off with mostly 'stocking-stuffer-people', but it's really starting to pick up. I think a lot of people got off work at noon and are now heading here to shop," she said.

Handcrafted pottery is the store's most popular item, and all shapes and sizes fly off the shelves year round, but particularly during the Christmas season. But that doesn't mean that they are out of stock. 

"That's what's nice about having things locally made. When we phone for more stock, it's here right away."

As far as outside activities go at The Forks, Paul Jordan stressed how important it is to check conditions and trail information before heading out for a skate. 

"We really want everyone to know what parts of the trail are open and which aren’t. Because it’s such a moving entity, there may still be open water in parts and we want to keep everyone safe," says Jordan.

"We update that site every day and there are closed signs on the trail but we ask everyone to use common sense when it comes to venturing on to the river." 

Skate rentals are available from Iceland Skates in The Forks Market Tower Atrium at a cost of $4.50 for adults and $2.50 for children

Arctic Glacier Winter Park ice rinks and trails are also open at The Forks. More information can be found at theforks.com/agwinterpark.

— with files from staff

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