Understand that I am a total warm-weather baby. I’ve always been more of an in-the chalet-making-cocoa-and-cookies than a head-for-the-slopes type.
For the most part, winter repulses me. I don’t like snow, the cold plays havoc with my skin that even my best moisturizer can’t fix, and nothing makes me feel more like a spinster aunt than cranking up a humidifier. And you can forget about trying to be cute in January and February, because your choices are cuteness or warmth. It’s next to impossible to find a good look when you have layers of underclothes, some thermal stuff, vest or hoodie, outer layer, scarf, hat, gloves and big ugly boots, all of which are caked with snow because negotiating slick sidewalks and staying on one’s feet is a Herculean task. You go out to a club, and by the time you’ve undressed at the coat check it’s last call and people are leaving, which is good because you’ve already sweated through your tee.
Since the only other option is staying home and falling victim to SAD (quick tip: upping your vitamin D intake helps), I’ve been going out lately. Not just out, but out in that most Canadian of ways: lacing up skates and gliding onto rinks. Knees bent, eyes up, skating in S-patterns and straight lines and laughing it off when I fall.
We’re lucky to have no less than 49 outdoor skating rinks in the city, so there is one right around the corner from wherever you are. Nathan Phillips Square is by far the most popular, but it gets too crowded for my taste. I’ve always been afraid of falling on the ice and having one of the show-offs, executing their impressive turns and stops, skate over my fingers.
But the lights are pretty, and it is central and easily accessible. And there are plenty of queer folk to be seen. Skating at city hall also gives one a chance to explore the square’s severely under-used elevated walkway. If it’s not too chilly, it’s a cute place to watch skaters from a new perspective. Don’t get too cozy up there, though. Mayor Ford’s office, just metres away, sees all.
Harbourfront’s DJ Skate Saturday Nights certainly have a more partylike atmosphere. Denise Benson and Cozmic Cat turned it out recently for the ladies of Cherry Bomb (how many other cities have a dyke night at their outdoor rinks?), and you will find me at the upcoming Motown, soca, cumbia and south-Asian nights. Even though it’s a bit chillier there — thanks to winds off the lake — I adore the Harbourfront rink because it’s less crowded than Nathan Phillips, has better indoor facilities for changing, and the naturalish setting by the lake is almost pretty enough to melt my city-bred heart, at least a little bit.
I say “almost” because the rink that rules the roost is the new Colonel Samuel Smith skatepark at Kipling and Lakeshore (Parkdalians take note: Etobicoke is the real west end!). Actually, it’s not so much a rink as an immaculately kept skating trail. It’s quiet, has great facilities, and it’s all kinds of fun — and romantic — to sail through trees and small hills. If you want to impress a date with something unexpected, this is the place.
A Zamboni and invisible cooling tubes keep the ice in great shape, so it’s just as good for beginners as it is for Johnny Weir-types. At night, the lights and isolation give it a dramatic feel, so don’t be afraid to cut loose. It’s far enough from downtown that you won’t run into anyone who will gossip about having seen you stage your own personal Ice Capades — as I did, with The Little Mermaid on my iPod, trying to skate fast enough to escape Ursula and her eels. You may not be ready for Disney on Ice, but it’s fun pretending! Elizabeth Manley would be proud.
Toronto at Night appears in every second issue of Xtra.