You’re never too young to learn cross-country skiing (contributed photo).

The push is on for Red Deer parks to be enjoyed all winter long

Skate on the new skating oval, snow-shoe or take a sleigh ride

Red Deerians can make like those plaid-shirted, beer commercial types and frolic outdoors in city parks this winter.

“We are Canadian! When winter comes, we don’t shut the door — we head outside!” said an enthusiastic Barb McKee, recreation superintendent for the City of Red Deer.

With the opening of the new speedskating oval in Great Chief Park this winter, and the count-down to the Alberta Winter Games in 2019, McKee said there’s “a real push” to make area residents aware of the year-round uses of our community parks and the Waskasoo Park system.

When this city turns into a frosty winter wonderland and temperatures plunge below zero, workers will be grooming Red Deer’s 60-plus outdoor skating rinks and ponds.

That’s a lot of ice surface for romantic skates, or a friendly game of shinny, said McKee.

“I’m blown away,” she added, that this city maintains more skating surfaces, per capita, than any other Canadian centre she knows of. “No other community provides for skating like Red Deer does.”

Besides making good use of neighbourhood rinks, city residents can head to Bower Ponds where there are skate rentals and large outdoor fire pits to enjoy for making s’mores, roasting weenies or just warming up.

Next door, in Great Chief Park, Red Deer’s new long-track speedskating oval will open as soon as it’s cold enough to freeze. McKee promises the oval will be bigger and better than when it was located downtown next to the Golden Circle. She encourages people to pre-test the track before the Alberta Winter Games.

The cross-country ski runs around River Bend Golf Course have also been widened and improved for the Games, and can be tried out this winter.

McKee invites families to ski, walk, or fat-tire bike ride along the golf course’s perimeter trail, which she considers “one of Red Deer’s best-kept secrets.”

She believes many citizens may not realize the Club House at River Bend is open all year.

At the other end of the city, residents can book an outdoor fire pit or a horse-drawn sleigh ride through a forest lit up with twinkly fairy lights at Heritage Ranch.

The Kerry Wood Nature Centre also offers a bevy of winter-time activities, including hiking, snow-shoeing, winter bird-watching and wildlife tours.

Todd Nivens, executive director of the centre and Fort Normandeau, said anyone interested can contact the centre to rent snowshoes or book a tour.

They can also look on the city’s website for a special event planned for Fort Normandeau early in 2018.

McKee said all city parks can be used year-round. All it takes is some layering and imagination: “Pretend you’re a hardy Canadian — take a blanket and have a picnic at Kin Kanyon,” where small fire pits can be lit with kindling to provide some cosy warmth.

The biggest outdoor winter spectacle, downtown’s Red Deer Lights the Night, will be held Saturday, Nov. 18, in City Hall Park, with free popcorn and hot chocolate.

Kids’ activities and a winter market will start up at 4 p.m. Colourful lights on park shrubbery will be switched on at about 5:15 p.m., while the city’s biggest Christmas tree will be lit up at about 6:15 p.m., followed by “low-level fireworks” before the festival wraps at 7 p.m.

McKee noted we live in a country where the cold can last six months, so we might as well make the most of winter.

“We all should embrace it … With a few extra layers, there’s no reason we can’t enjoy Red Deer all year long.”

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