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.
(Update January 2020: For the first time in 20 years, the river skating trails will not open in 2020. The river was at an unprecedented high level before freeze-up. The chunks of ice that formed along the bank and cliffs of broken ice have made it too dangerous to bring equipment or people to the river surface. There are still about 2 kilometers of on-land trails. The rink under the Canopy is open.)
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. Each years sees new designs on the trail along with a smattering of huts from previous years.
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.
“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 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.
“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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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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