Ice Skating and Architecture: Warming Huts on the River

February 19, 2017
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Ice Skating and Architecture: Warming Huts on the River

About Winnipeg’s river skating trail and its architectural award-winning warming huts

The Red River Mutual Trail is an outdoor ice skating rink in the heart of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Located on the frozen Red and Assiniboine Rivers, it holds the Guinness World Record for the longest naturally frozen skating trail in the world. Not only does the trail offer kilometres of skating fun, there is a walking trail beside it for those who choose to walk, run, or sled.

Ice Skating on the longest naturally frozen trail in the world

Walking trail beside the skating trail

It is not only the Guinness World Record which makes this trail unique. Warming huts along the trail are built from award-winning designs . Since 2009, an annual competition accepts warming hut designs from around the world. A blind jury for Warming Huts: An Art + Architecture Competition selects winning designs which “push the envelop of design, craft and art.” Near the end of January, award winners travel to Winnipeg to begin construction of their designs. The competition continues to garner world attention and attract great architects and artists.

Ice Skating and Architecture: Warming Huts on the River, Winnipeg - "Mirror Cloaking" hut

“Mirror Cloaking” warming hut, created 2015

A warming hut created in 2015, “Mirror Cloaking”, sits at the entrance to the trail at The Forks. One-way mirrors and polished stainless steel panels create a mirror box which reflects the landscape around it. The hut makes a good spot to lace up before hitting the trail.

There were over 100 entrants for the 2017 competition. The three winners were: “Ice Lantern” by Lisa Tondino, Alexandra Bolen, Matthew Rodrigues, and Drew Klassen from Nova Scotia, Canada; “Open Border” by Joyce de Grauw and Paul van den Berg from Rotterdam, Netherlands; “Greetings from Bubble Beach” by Team 888 from Chicago, Illinois. In addition to the winners, designs were received from the University of Manitoba Faculty of Architecture and students at Nelson McIntyre Collegiate in Winnipeg. Each year there is also an invited artist. World-renowned British-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor was the 2017 invited artist.

Ice Skating and Architecture: Warming Huts on the River, Winnipeg - "Open Border" hut

“Open Border” warming hut (Photo courtesy Warming Huts v. 2017)

“Open Border” is a straight red wall running perpendicular to the skating trail. The red provides a contrast to the white landscape. The transparent facade is made of insulating and draft-resistant strips. Spaces in the middle of the hut are larger so skaters can pass through, smaller and more intimate at the edges.

Ice Skating and Architecture: Warming Huts on the River, Winnipeg - "Ice Lantern" hut

“Ice Lantern”

“Ice Lantern” is based on the archetype of the primitive hut. It consists of two main parts: a white lantern hovering above the snow and a snow-mound structure holding the lantern in place. It is a naturally insulated dug-out with wood benches. The hut is open to the sky at top.

Ice Skating and Architecture: Warming Huts on the River, Winnipeg - "Greetings from Bubble Beach" hut

“Greetings from Bubble Beach”

“Greetings from Bubble Beach” is modelled after an inverse snow globe. The transparent geodesic dome creates a bubble of warmth. Deck chairs, a leaning palm tree and pink flamingos create a feeling of summer under the winter sun.

Flamingos surround a warming hut along the Red River Mutual Skating Trail in Winnipeg, Manitoba

Ice Skating and Architecture: Warming Huts on the River, Winnipeg - "On The Rails"

“On The Rails” by Nelson McIntyre Collegiate is a boxcar made mostly of wood to honour The Forks’ railway history.
(Photo courtesy of Warming Huts v. 2017)

Ice Skating and Architecture: Warming Huts on the River, Winnipeg- "WARMHUT" hut

“WARMHUT” by University of Manitoba Faculty of Architecture

“WARMHUT” is inspired by a sauna structure. The cedar plank-covered hut has a stove inside it which is fueled by pellets made from cattails. It is a hut designed to be truly warm. The stove was not on the day I went inside it, but it was still cozy and warm.

Ice Skating and Architecture: Warming Huts on the River, Winnipeg - "WARMHUT" interior

Inside “WARMHUT”

Ice Skating and Architecture: Warming Huts on the River, Winnipeg - "Temple" hut

“Temple”, 2016

A couple of huts from previous years are also found along the trail. “Temple” by Kirill Blair and Darla Lisitsyna from Russia was a winner in the 2016 competition. It follows the structure of ancient Greek places of worship. The “Hole Idea” by Weiss Architecture and Urbanism Limited from Toronto, Ontario is a 2015 creation.

Ice Skating and Architecture: Warming Huts on the River, Winnipeg - "Hole Idea" hut

“Hole Idea”, 2015

Ice Skating and Architecture: Warming Huts on the River, Winnipeg - "Hole Idea" hut

Ice Skating and Architecture: Warming Huts on the River, Winnipeg - "Stackhouse" hut

“Stackhouse”

“Stackhouse” by invited artist Anish Kapoor is getting a lot of attention. The 72-tonne structure is made of ice blocks harvested from the Red River. Architect Luca Roncoroni, who created the Victorian apartment at the Sweden IceHotel, led the sculpting team.

Ice Skating and Architecture: Warming Huts on the River, Winnipeg - "Stackhouse" hut

Ice Skating and Architecture: Warming Huts on the River, Winnipeg - "Stackhouse" hut

Ice Skating and Architecture: Warming Huts on the River, Winnipeg - "Stackhouse" hut

Ice Skating and Architecture: Warming Huts on the River, Winnipeg

Taking baby along for a skate

Opening and closing the Red River Mutual Trail is dependent on weather. Typically, the trail opens in January and closes sometime in March. The length varies from year to year, again dependent on weather. The trail is accessible from The Forks, is free, and has no set hours. The trail is groomed late night or early morning and you need to be aware of machines on the ice at those times. Skates are available for rent at The Forks Market from 10 am to 10 pm. If you walk the walking trail, normal winter walking boots are sufficient. Be on the lookout for icy patches, particularly where water may have dripped under bridges.

Information and tips about the trail, along with current conditions and any closures, can be found on its web page. Trail conditions vary with the weather. Check current conditions before you head out.

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  • Reply
    Susan Cooper/findingourwaynow.com
    February 19, 2017 at 9:30 am

    What an interesting trail. The warming huts are really cool. My favorites are the one made of mirrors and the globe. The ice block structure is pretty darn amazing too.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      February 20, 2017 at 8:32 am

      Susan, it is interesting. I’ve loved reading about the huts in previous years, but with being away for the last several winters didn’t get a chance to see them in person. It was great to do that this year.

  • Reply
    Tag Along Deb
    February 19, 2017 at 9:37 am

    This is a great post, Donna. Your photos capture what it’s like to skate along the trail admiring the warming huts. It’s bittersweet for me because between travel and the unusually warm weather, I have not been on the ice once this year and it looks like it won’t happen at all now. In past years I have skated the trail once a week. It’s especially enchanting in the evenings when there are not many people and the night sky is above you as you glide along.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      February 20, 2017 at 8:38 am

      Thanks Deb. I haven’t been on the trail at night and I can well imagine it would be enchanting. The weather is supposed to get cooler, so there is a chance the trail will reopen for a short while before the season closes completely. The warming huts have been moved off the river for now and can be seen around the canopy at The Forks.

  • Reply
    Ken Dowell
    February 19, 2017 at 7:33 pm

    I’m pretty unsteady on ice skates but that’s looks like enough fun to get me to give it a try.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      February 20, 2017 at 8:38 am

      Ken, or you could walk the walking trail beside the skating trail.

  • Reply
    Nancie
    February 21, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    I don’t skate, but I would be up for walking the trail. I love the huts, and fantastic to read that this years winners are from Nova Scotia.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      February 24, 2017 at 4:32 pm

      Nancie, walking the trail is fun too.

  • Reply
    A Taste for Travel
    February 21, 2017 at 9:57 pm

    That’s fantastic! Winnipeg is my home town and I’m thrilled to see how its still thriving and leading the way in the arts. I especially love that Bubble Beach warming hut .

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      February 24, 2017 at 4:34 pm

      Michele, I liked the Bubble Beach hut too. Winnipeg definitely has an exciting arts scene.

  • Reply
    Carolina Colborn
    February 23, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    What a unique and beautiful trail. Stack House can be the new igloo! I now know why I should go to Winnipeg!!! When is the best time…when it isn’t that cold but the river is still frozen?

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      February 24, 2017 at 4:39 pm

      Carol, you ask a tough question. It is too hard to predict exactly when in winter you will get a bitter spell or a mild spell. Typically the trail is open January to sometime in March. The huts may not get placed until late January. You have a better chance of getting milder weather in February than in January. Mid-February is also when Festival du Voyageur is on, so that can be a great time to visit. This year, however, we had so many exceptionally mild days in a row the trail was closed.

  • Reply
    Sue Reddel
    February 24, 2017 at 10:47 am

    What a unique and fun idea! A skating trail? It looks so fun. I love the warming centers.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      February 24, 2017 at 4:40 pm

      Sue, the warming huts are certainly a unique feature of this skating trail.

  • Reply
    Jeri Walker (@JeriWB)
    February 24, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    I’ve never been ice skating, but would love to give it try, especially on a skating trail.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      February 24, 2017 at 4:41 pm

      Jeri, you could always push a chair for balance like one of the fellows in the top photo.

  • Reply
    Nathalie
    February 25, 2017 at 2:55 pm

    Those are some very imaginative warming huts, what a great idea and promotion for the architects/artists. Having lived close to the Rideau Canal for half my life I can understand the usefulness of a long ice skating/walking trail for exercise and commute. This is a part of our country I would love to visit some day.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      March 1, 2017 at 9:37 am

      Nathalie, the warming huts certainly attract more people to the trail.

  • Reply
    Kristin Henning
    February 26, 2017 at 5:53 pm

    This is great fun, and reminds me of Minneapolis’ Art Shanty project with ice houses built on our frozen lakes. The walk/skating trail is brilliant.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      March 1, 2017 at 9:38 am

      Kristin, I haven’t seen Minneapolis’ Art Shanty project. Another fun idea.

  • Reply
    santafetraveler
    February 26, 2017 at 5:57 pm

    The warming huts look like fun and in those temperatures, very welcome. I just read that Ottawa’s Rideau Canal has the longest naturally frozen ice rink in the world- so Canada rocks when it comes to ice skating.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      March 1, 2017 at 9:39 am

      Billie, I guess we do rock when it comes to ice skating. We need to find ways to get through the cold.

  • Reply
    Anita and Richard @ No Particular Place To Go
    March 1, 2017 at 4:26 am

    Wow – Love this post Donna. I had a hard time deciding which of the ice huts were my favorites as I thought the message of the “Open Border” hut was timely and the “Stackhouse” had a surreal beauty. However, I think my hands down favorite was the “Greetings from Bubble Beach” which got me laughing. So clever! Anita

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      March 1, 2017 at 9:40 am

      Anita, the “Greetings from Bubble Beach” hut can’t help but make you smile or laugh. Delightful bit of whimsy.

  • Reply
    RoseMary Griffith
    March 3, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    I like the variety of the huts–the artists are brilliant. Although it seems it would be cold to me, I think the ice hut is the most striking. I’ll bet the skaters love the length of the skating area. Pittsburgh has a small circular rink in downtown (PPG Place), but it’s not large enough to get up any speed!

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      March 5, 2017 at 9:23 am

      RoseMary, I love the artistry of the huts. It is nice to have such a long skating trail.

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