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  • Jackie Skrypnek

A Winter Wonder

Frozen bubbles in the ice at Lake Minnewanka

Sure, I'd like to be visiting family on Vancouver Island where the cherry blossoms are already opening, or dashing outside barefoot to snip warm herbs from the garden. Instead I'm tethered to the here and now. The "here" being the Alberta foothills and the "now" being deepest winter (the "here" also being a province undergoing a reckoning of its traditional fossil fuel identity; the "now" being nearly a year into a pandemic and its accompanying restrictions). Sounds potentially bleak. Yet this setting has actually been generous with its beauty and its offers to engage with a quiet, frozen world. Take, for example, my recent discovery of an otherworldly winter phenomenon just an hour from home.

Though I've lived near the mountains all my life, and though my youth was spent competitive figure skating, somehow the activity of wild skating on mountain lakes totally escaped my awareness. My husband and I tried it for the first time in December. We drilled to test the ice depth and were reassured by previous blade marks on the surface, but the prospect of falling through remained terrifying. Eventually, emboldened by other skaters, we took more swift and confident strokes across the glassy plane, catching sight of fish below and intricate dendrite-like fissures along the black surface. It was totally thrilling - a sort of revelation: how had we not known about this before?

Snowflake crystals on Lake Minnewanka

Inspired by that first experience, we set out last weekend in the hopes of finding another skate-able spot. Most lakes were covered in residual snow from the dump we received in December, but Lake Minnewanka, near Banff, had evidently frozen up more recently - it was smooth and clear. Taking our cue from the scores of skaters already enjoying the icy expanse, we set out and laced up. Nestled picturesquely among handsome snow-capped peaks, the lake surface was dotted with giant snowflake crystals glittering in the intense sunlight. Though futile, I was tempted to dodge them as one does flowers in a meadow.

It was amid this brilliant scene that we were struck by an auditory marvel. Zinging up through the ice and out into the mountain air were sounds from the galactic realm - cosmic lasers, a Star Wars battle, as though the earth had been turned on its head and the lake water was outer space. It could have been mistaken for a new age, techno soundtrack were there a regular beat to it. We were giddy with the craziness of these ice-generated laser sounds coming from the water body we skated on. Again, how had we not known about this?

Perhaps Minnewanka is acoustically amplified, being large and ringed by mountains. Or maybe it was a case of the first experience of anything being extra vivid. Regardless, we had discovered something new that truly blew us away - right in our own "backyard"! This part of the world at this time of year is no doubt full of these sorts of surprises and I'm sure the same is true wherever you are, whatever the season and the backdrop of history. The trick to uncovering them seems to be a simple willingness to embrace the here and now.

Note: I would highly recommend trying out wild skating - there are articles and blogs online that can point you to some accessible (and some hidden) spots. Maybe you'll be treated to the same "spacey" sounds we encountered! But there is inherent danger involved - two people, having ventured too far out to where the ice thinned, were rescued from the icy water of Lake Minnewanka the same day we were there. Some basic knowledge and safety precautions are needed.



Wow, stunning! The photo of the giant snow crystals is amazing. What a beautiful, magical experience. I remember skating a few times in years past on Ghost Lake; that also was wild and beautiful, skating over deep fissures in the ice, feeling like the water itself was holding you up, which of course it was.

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