Happy Valley Day Lodge at the base of Big White Ski Resort’s village isn’t just a great place to grab an après ski bite to eat; it also offers the top skating in North America – literally! Sitting at close to 1,700 metres (5,577 feet) above sea level, it’s the highest altitude rink on the continent (and almost the entire globe, bested only by Medeo in Russia). If you’ve still got some energy after a day on the hill, it’s a perfectly Canadian après activity for any outdoor enthusiast.
As a Canadian myself, I had grown up taking ice skating lessons and trips to local rinks for class field trips. With years of background experience, I decided to show a British buddy of mine the ice skating ropes. The excursion started in the afternoon with a quick stop in the rental shop in the Happy Valley Day Lodge to pick up some skates. As season pass holders, we were able to get them free of charge (otherwise, they can be rented for $8.50/hour).
Once I was laced up, I ran out to the Olympic-sized rink, eager to show off my Canadian skills. However, all my primary school-aged training was further behind me than I thought and the moment I touched the ice, I was sent flying off my feet and onto my face. Laughing, but slightly embarrassed at the sceptical looks I was getting from my friend and the rink attendants, I straightened myself out and began some slower (but successful) laps of the rink. Soon enough, my implicit memory kicked in and I was able to conduct an impromptu lesson for my friend while skating backward circles around him.
Soon enough, it was time to take things to the next level and bring out some sticks and a puck, both available in the rental shop (free again as season pass holders, with stick rentals at a usual price of $4.00/hour). We made it back out the rink (avoiding face planting) and starting attempting to pass the puck across the ice. I was never close to being an Olympic ice hockey player, but the combination of keeping my balance on blades that were moving me in one direction, while shooting a piece of vulcanized rubber in another proved to require more coordination than I remembered.
Once we started getting into the swing (and shoot) of things, it was time for a quick Belgian waffle break at Skaters in Happy Valley before the real action began. This consisted of a nightly game of pick-up hockey, with locals and tourists both coming down under the out door lighting for a friendly match. Players of all levels hit the ice for a spirited match. It was often difficult to tell the teams apart and nets were often “accidentally” left overturned, making scoring a virtual impossibility, but the emphasis remained on fun and everyone left in high enough spirits to rival the rink itself.