Outdoor ice rinks are being replaced by roller skating rinks in many European cities as they struggle with their cost and environmental impact in a warming world. But will Canadian cities face similar choices? And what can be done to keep outdoor skating alive?
Here’s a closer look.
It was a warm winter across much of Canada that turned the skating season into a slush in many places — including Ottawa, where it was announced last week that the icon The Rideau Canal Skateway would not open this yearfor the first time since it was first released for skating in 1971.
Earlier this week, Canadian Winter Games athletes trained in speed skating on the Halifax Oval in Atlantic Canada were delayed by heavy rain and temperatures of 8 C leaving its surface in a great puddle. Meanwhile the The only rinks open in Montreal for much of the winter were refrigerated rinksalso known as “artificial ice rinks”.
CLOCK | Skating on the Rideau Canal canceled:
European and US cities are ditching outdoor ice rinks
In other parts of the world, winter temperatures below freezing are already unreliable and chillers, which require a lot of energy to produce artificial ice, are vital.
Many cities in more temperate climates have decided to skip their traditional winter ice rinks altogether this year. In some places – such as San Jose, California., Monaco, Bad Neuenahr, Germanyand a number of French cities including tours And Gembloux — they were replaced by roller skating rinks. Another French commune La test de book opted for a plastic track made of plastic.
Everyone blamed high energy costs and many European cities cited this Energy crisis related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
However, the demise of seasonal outdoor ice rinks is a trend that has been accelerating in France in recent years, where environmentally conscious local governments are considering the environmental and financial sustainability of iIce skating in its warming climate.
Martin Cohen, Deputy Mayor of Tours, France, responsible for Environment, said the guard“It seemed a bit crazy to have an outdoor ice rink when the temperature here at Christmas has been 10-15C for several years.”
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How climate change affects outdoor ice rinks – and vice versa
For a natural outdoor ice rink to survive, the average temperature must be below -5C, says Robert McLeman, a professor of environmental studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. He is also one of the principal researchers of RinkWatch, a citizen science program that tracks the length of the skating season for outdoor ice rinks across the country.
While that’s not yet an issue on the prairies, McLeman said January temperatures are now near the -5C threshold in southern Ontario, the St. Lawrence Valley and Atlantic Canada.
So far, many communities in these regions rely on natural ice rinks for ice skating in winter. But McLeman says he’s getting more inquiries about when they need to switch to refrigerated rinks.
“One of the challenges is the fact that refrigerated ice rinks are much more expensive,” he said. “They also use refrigerants and energy, which contribute to the main source of this, which is greenhouse gas emissions.”
Because of the higher cost, communities can afford fewer of them, making the rinks less accessible, especially outside of Canada’s largest cities, he acknowledged. “Smaller governments with smaller budgets may simply not have the resources to make this transition.”
Even some big cities have found it a challenge. Montreal promised in 2016 to build refrigerated ice rinks around the city, but They ended up costing millions more than expected and delaying construction.
Costs will also rise as the climate continues to warm. Cooling systems require more energy to hold the ice as it gets warmer, McLeman said. “And there will be days when it’s just too warm even for the superchargers to keep it cold enough to skate.”
Canadian cities explore potential outdoor skate solutions
Still, many communities see outdoor ice skating as an important investment.
Shari Lichterman, acting city manager of Mississauga, Ontario, said the pandemic has pushed people outdoors. “And the demand for outdoor activities is greater than ever.”
For this reason, the city, which has so far mainly relied on natural ice rinks and ice rinks, is examining the expansion of additional outdoor artificial ice rinks.
One of the locations under consideration for a new chilled or synthetic ice rink is along the Credit River, which has traditionally been a popular natural ice rink. On the February day that Lichterman spoke to CBC News, water could be seen on the banks of the river, and the ice was clearly not ready to support the weight of the skaters.
Lichterman said the city is now considering climate change for all of its park’s amenities. “If we look at winter and ice, you know, we really have to look at synthetic surfaces, certainly chilled surfaces — that’s very difficult.”
She acknowledged that these come with high maintenance costs.
North Vancouver’s more sustainable solution
While some parts of Canada may anticipate a future where much of the winter is rainy and above freezing, and wonder how to prepare for it, this winter climate is already a reality in BC’s lower mainland.
And yet, a few years ago, the city of North Vancouver decided to build its largest outdoor ice rink right on the waterfront. How they built it might offer some ideas for other cities.
Mayor Linda Buchanan said the city wants to attract people to its outdoor space in the Shipyards District year-round, including winter, and provide opportunities for activities where they can socialize with other people outdoors.
Karen Magnuson, the city’s chief engineer, acknowledged that creating an outdoor ice rink in North Vancouver’s temperate climate was a challenge.
The ice rink was fitted with a retractable roof to protect the ice from the sun and rain.
However, a key strategy was the use of a CO2 cooler to cool the system. Magnuson said it was “incredibly efficient” to remove heat from the ice via a network of tubes beneath the ice’s surface, compared to other types of refrigerants and refrigeration systems.
This efficiency is further increased by feeding in the waste heat extracted from the ice a local heating network. This provides local buildings with hot water and space heating – enough to heat the equivalent of 43 homes – and offsets the use of natural gas.
Magnuson said the result was that the shipyards’ rink was two to three times more efficient than a standard rink.
The outdoor skater plaza, which opened in 2019 but was closed for a number of years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will be welcoming skaters through the end of March. The ice can only be maintained when the temperature is below 15C.
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In the summer, the plaza hosts a splash park and roller skating events, and the ice rink’s cooling loop is used to air-condition nearby buildings like the Polygon Gallery and the Pipe Shop venue, Magnuson said.
“I think it’s really important that cities provide places for the community to come together and play,” she added. “We just have to make sure we create these entities as efficiently as possible.”