Bundled up like the Michelin Man Friday afternoon, I knew I was in no danger of getting a speeding ticket on the newly opened river trail.

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This article was published 9/1/2009 (4755 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Bundled up like the Michelin Man Friday afternoon, I knew I was in no danger of getting a speeding ticket on the newly opened river trail.

After getting my bearings in rented skates, I passed a sign posted on the concrete support of a bridge just a couple of hundred metres from The Forks -- day speed limit 37 kilometres an hour, night speed limit 10 km/h.

I surmised the sign is intended to keep motorboats in check during the summer, but it also represents the completely different view the river trail presents to those whose closest contact with the Assiniboine river is usually driving over it.

Skating west towards Hugo Street, where the Zamboni-smoothed part of the trail currently ends -- it will be extended to Assiniboine Park in two weeks -- I'm amazed at how lost I am as I try to find my bearings by looking at the backs of buildings I've only ever seen from the front. The only one that really stands out is the Legislative Building.

For some reason, I'm saying all of this out loud to myself as I skate along. I think it's because the river trail, which is only four metres wide, is largely an independent experience. Even though there is the odd person around me -- skating the other way or cross-country skiing on the nearby walkway -- they're far enough away that the only sound I hear is my skate blades scraping on the ice.

I'm also struck by how weird it is to skate in what is essentially a straight line for 4.5 kilometres. After 35 years of playing hockey, I'm not used to skating farther than 60 metres without having to turn, stop or careen into the boards. Some back-of-the-napkin math tells me the current river trail is the equivalent of nearly 75 hockey rinks, back to back. That will more than double when the rest of the trail is opened up.

As much as I was dealing with some new experiences, it was nothing like what Glenn Hoggard was going through. The Englishman was in town visiting friends and family and was taken for his first-ever skate on the Assiniboine. "There's going to be some sort of collapse," he said to me with a laugh. "Somewhere it's going to involve pain and possibly the hospital. Rivers don't freeze in England."

Elaine Hadfield, one of his hosts, said because the Mini Donuts Factory in The Forks Market rents out skates, the river trail is a great place to take out-of-towners.

"It's a truly Canadian and Winnipeg experience for them to try. Plus, it's a beautiful day," she said.

Nobody appreciated the beauty of being outside like Emma Hadfield, 7, who was lucky enough to be taken out of her Grade 2 classroom for the afternoon. "At school, I've got to do work. Here I get to have fun," she said, as her four-year-old sister, Lily, skated around her.



Hit the trail

This year's river trail, in addition to being slightly longer than last year's, has a few new features as well.

Home Depot has donated five warming sheds, which will be situated along the trail.

There will be new access points at the Bourkevale Community Club, Assiniboine Park, Dominion Street and Arlington Street.

Two websites, rivertrail.ca (English) and sentierdhiver.ca (French) will be donated to the river trail and provide daily updates on ice conditions.

Programming includes a candlelight skate Jan. 16 with a fire-dancing performance from local troupe, Fire Pyxies, and an "arctic dig" featuring toys and other treats encased in ice blocks along the river trail on Saturdays and Sundays. (Ice-carving tools will be provided.)