Scanlan: Cold weather a mere skate in the forest at Lac-des-Loups

 

 
 
 
 
A glimpse at the forest skateway in Lac-des-Loups.
 

A glimpse at the forest skateway in Lac-des-Loups.

Hockey on the Hill may have taken a hit from the deep freeze, but skating through the woods has survived the big chill.

Dave Mayer’s brainstorm of creating a skateway through the forest north of Gatineau Park has proven to be wildly popular with locals and tourists.

In its second year of operation, Mayer’s Lac-des-Loups Patinage en forêt received a holiday week boost from an early cold snap.

The reviews from my family were strong, after a couple of loops around the Lac-des-Loups’ three-kilometre skateway this week. The ice conditions were exceptional on a trail that essentially passes through Mayer’s vast backyard. It is managed by one Zamboni, three water trucks and one very cool mechanical “sweeper.”

Mayer — a general contractor whose family has been in Quebec for more than 200 years — got the idea of a trail rink after seeing a U.S. news report on a forest skate in Trois-Rivières. After a year or so of planning, grooming and flooding the property, Mayer allows, “we almost know what we’re doing.”

I should say so. Mayer and his wife, Monique, were hoping for 3,000 visitors last season and were stunned to have 19,000 people either skate, snow-shoe or walk the trails.

“I have the property for it – the only flat land in the Gatineau Hills,” Mayer said.

Clearing and grooming the trail was a fat lot of work. More than expected.

“When we first started, I’d be a liar if I said I knew what I was doing,” Mayer said. “But failure was not an option.

“That’s the way we are around here. We figure things out. We make things happen.”

Mayer was seeking the sugar shack feel to his skate shed and has nailed it. The rectangular wooden shed is warm and inviting with a wood fire burning and home-made soup cooking. He thought of offering fries and BeaverTails like the Rideau Canal, but didn’t want visitors to smell grease frying when they stepped out of their vehicles.

Since last season, he has placed antique farm implements on the trail sides and a leaning post on the ice. He wants to build a fire pit and add another couple of kilometres of trail ice if he can get permission to build a small bridge across the creek on his property.

While a $39 season’s pass is popular with the locals (adults pay $13 for a day), Mayer is pleased to see so many global tourists on his unique rink. He figures at least 15 different nations have been represented, including Russia, Taiwan and Sweden. Licence plates from New York and New Jersey are commonplace.

His business employs 15 people, and that includes the mascot “Loupie” who high-fives skaters as they come and go from the shack. As needed, Mayer jumps into the sweeper to clean up the snow on the ice trail, which is also an occasion to see the smiling faces of children on his trail.

“It’s not all about the money,” Mayer said. “It’s so gratifying to see all these people having so much fun.”

All profits from skate rentals at the site go to a local health foundation.

On Thursday, while the Canada 150 Rink was closed to a minor hockey tournament due to brittle and chipping ice, Mayer reported good conditions on his trails. The forest and local hills provide shelter from wind and while face cover was a necessity, the ice was holding up to the -20 C temperatures.

“Mine is a path and the cracks are perpendicular to the path, so you are skating across the cracks, not into them,” Mayer said.

While Mayer got a healthy head start on the Rideau Canada skateway, he doesn’t think of the canal as competition, and would never speak ill of it.

“We’ve been on Wolf Lake for 200 years,” Mayer said. “The Mayers arrived in Montreal in 1795 and the Forans on my mother’s side came from Ireland to work on the canal.

“We take the canal personally, my ancestors helped build it and I personally know those guys working on the ice at night. They do a good job.”

wscanlan@postmedia.com
twitter/@hockeyscanner

 
 
 
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A glimpse at the forest skateway in Lac-des-Loups.
 

A glimpse at the forest skateway in Lac-des-Loups.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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