Welcoming a winter wonderland
Manitobans embrace cold weather while seeking solace, outdoor adventure
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/12/2021 (254 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitobans who have ice in their veins are already lacing up or casting their lines.
Kerry Stevenson recently posted a short video of himself skating on the frozen La Salle River.
He and a friend weave left to right as the sound of skate blades punctuates the 20-second clip.
The pair skated 7.5 km that day, Stevenson wrote in his post.
An experience on one of The Forks’ river trails inspired his turn as an ice-skating enthusiast seven years ago.
“It’s an entirely different way of looking at the city,” Stevenson said.
Seeing the Red River flooded with people and the glow of city lights at night is heartening, he said.
“That’s really something because it’s changed our attitude of what winter is and what it means. Winter can be a huge amount of fun, and in recent years, I’ve discovered that. And so can everyone else,” he said.
Stevenson now hunts for wild ice — perfectly frozen and untouched by skate or ski — like the kind in his video.
His pursuit has led him to lakes and rivers beyond the Perimeter Highway.
“To me, it’s the sweeping around in big arcs with lots of space. That’s the magic of the whole thing,” Stevenson said.
“On the lakes, if you get the right kind of spot, it’s just huge… and if the wind is just right, you can stick your arms out and get blown down the ice like a sailboat. It’s just breathtaking,” he said.
Stevenson is not the only Manitoban who finds solace in winter sport.
“Winter has become my favourite time of the year,” said Mike Klatt.
Last Sunday, the 40-year-old struck out on frozen Gull Lake, hiking two kilometres while dragging nearly 300 pounds of gear in a sled.
He and his wife, Kali, established an overnight camp and spent the day fishing and enjoying the solitude of the open lake. They returned to Winnipeg Monday, recharged and ready for their next adventure, Klatt said.
Last season, the couple spent 14 weekends on the ice, sleeping on lakes across the province, from Hecla to Lake of the Prairies.
Klatt estimates he hits the ice four times per week in an average season, if not for overnights, then shorter day trips. It’s become a healthy obsession, he admits.
“(It makes) getting through winter so much easier because it gives you something to look forward to,” he said. “Without this, I honestly don’t know what I would do in the winter.”
In addition to providing a seasonal pastime, ice fishing has connected Klatt with a community of fellow anglers and generated plenty of content for his YouTube channel where he documents his travels.
Klatt saw interest in the sport spike last season amid the pandemic, and while he encouraged every person to try it out, he offered a warning to newcomers.
It is not all casual fun, and being on the ice requires vigilance. Mistakes can — and do — have life-threatening consequences, Klatt said.
When it comes to ice fishing, people need to constantly monitor ice and weather conditions, and newcomers should avoid venturing out alone. Most importantly, people should never enter an ice-fishing shack without a working carbon monoxide detector, he said.
The propane heaters commonly used to heat shacks expel the dangerous gas. Last season, a 52-year-old man and woman died of carbon monoxide poisoning while fishing in the RM of St. Clements. Klatt pointed to the incident as a cautionary tale.
Dr. Christopher Love, a co-ordinator with Lifesaving Society Manitoba, offered similar water and ice safety tips.
At a minimum, people should always adhere to these best practices: always wear a life-jacket or flotation suit, never head out alone, and always tell somebody where you are going, when you leave, and when you plan to return, he said.
“There is never a guarantee of safety while out on the ice… If you choose to go out on the ice, be prepared to go into the water,” Love said.
This early in the season, the province has not seen enough cold weather to ensure strong ice formation, so the society’s general advice is to stay off the ice. People who disregard that advice do so at their own risk.
The society’s guidelines state ice less than five inches thick is unsafe for walking, skating, or snowmobiling.
Clear ice with blue, black, or green tinges generally indicates a solid freeze, while cloudy, brown, or yellow ice could be unsafe, Love said.
Other safety hazards include slush or puddles, which may indicate melting or cracked ice, and ice with large amounts of snow on it, he said.
It is a common misconception heavy snow indicates solid ice. But snow insulates the ice and can prevent it from freezing further, Love explained.
Snowdrifts can also create and disguise holes in the ice, so they should be avoided, he added.
“We want people to get out. We want people to be active…if you’re going to do that (it’s) really, really important that you’re making sure you take the appropriate safety steps,” Love said.
A message on The Forks website says the Centennial River Trail opening date will depend on the weather. In the past, it has opened in January and typically closes in March.