Article was originally printed in the February edition of Hometown News. The dates have since been changed. Read the full article for details.– Hometown News Staff
Skate the Lake returns for first time since the pandemic
How many of you have never heard of Skate the Lake (STL)? Well, it has been run every winter and this will be the 18th edition on Portland Bay on Big Rideau Lake. I have the luxury of looking out my window and in the middle of the night late in January seeing a zamboni going around the 1 kilometre speed skating oval laying down a glistening layer of ice for the next day’s events. It is truly a spectacular and unique winter weekend event that Portland is known for far and wide. Yes, we have hosted speed skaters from many countries in Europe as well as North America over the years.
Skate the Lake is organized by Portland Outdoors, a not-for-profit group that puts on the annual event. The North American Marathon Speed Skating Championships were held in Portland in 2006 and 2014, and in 2016 an episode of the Rick Mercer Report was filmed. Skate the Lake in Portland, Ontario returns Saturday February 18 and Sunday 19, 2023. The United Church in Portland will be serving full breakfast on Saturday the 18th.
Skate the Lake is a weekend full of skating races for all kinds of skill levels and all types of skates. The 10K and 25K take place on Saturday morning, followed by the popular kids 5K (12 and under) and the 5x1K relay race where teams that enter are encouraged to dress up. On Sunday, the regular 5K and 50K races will take place. Skate the Lake also includes a kid’s skating rink, horse drawn sleigh rides, bon fires, concession stands (food and merchandise), snert and much more. Wait. Did you say snert? What’s that? It is a favourite Dutch green pea soup, and here the founder, Marco Smits and John Bongers, two local Dutch Canadians who love speed skating and use the long speed skates, wanted to use them locally so the lake was a natural choice just as they use canals in Holland and in Ottawa too.
During the pandemic, there was no traditional STL but instead there was the birth of the Skate the Lake Challenge, which will also return in 2023. The challenge was introduced in 2020 as a safe way for people to get some exercise and fresh air. All skaters are welcome and you don’t have to be a registered racer. The concept of the challenge is that skaters log the laps they skate on the oval throughout the winter and keep a running total. Last year, 70 skaters recorded laps and collectively they skated all the way to Regina, Alberta. The collective total was 2,703 kilometres!
The big question on everyone’s mind is what about the mild weather? Every couple of years it is the same. Mild weather that threatens the weekend for STL, but every time we have been blessed with a cold snap before the last week of January and we get at least 12 inches of ice necessary to safely run STL. Again, we hope this will be the case, so stay tuned for more information as STL draws closer!
I have a new pair of soft-sided skates that I hope I can bend over to tighten enough to skate all around the oval again. The hockey skates I had with hard plastic sides were too loose as I could not at my retirement age tighten them. I looked like a 3 year old wobbling down the oval on my ankles and I couldn’t even do one lap! Well, this year will be a different story. So why don’t you come out with the family, bring your skates and spend a day on the lake. There will be food, kiosks and hay bales to sit on as well as fires to keep warm during STL. The oval will be maintained afterwards for leisure skaters and those who will still race around the oval looking like Hans Brinker or our own Olympian medalist Isabelle Weidemann ! There are plans afoot by RBC to again bring in an Olympian, and the folks in Kingston will also host a side-rink of Ice Stock for everyone to try. Ice stock sport Ice stock sport is somewhat similar to curling but uses lighter stones with a vertical handle that everyone can use. If you want to register to race, here is the information you need: For registration and a full list of race events visit www.skatethelakeportland.com.