Forest Skating a New Popular Sport

By Kristen Bergstrand, Utilization and Marketing Program Coordinator, Division of Forestry, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR)

Forest skating is a new outdoor adventure winter sport that's surfacing in Canada and parts of the U.S. It combines benefits like "forest bathing" with the fun winter activity of ice skating. Forest bathing is all about experiencing the sights, sounds, and feel of the forest and soaking it in for a therapeutic value. Simply put: Forest bathing is retreating to nature to immerse yourself in the forest atmosphere. While Forest bathing doesn't have anything to do with bubble bath or hot water, it can provide similar relaxation benefits. Forest bathing and forest skating are quickly gaining popularity in the United States, and Canada. Forest skating is the opportunity to combine forest bathing's therapeutic benefits with a fun traditional activity such as ice skating.

Forest bathing is all about experiencing the sights, sounds, and feel of the forest and soaking it in for a therapeutic value.

Forest skating takes place on trails similar to hiking or walking trails. Forest skating is unique in that it takes the experience a step farther by putting those trails in a forested setting. Forest skating offers the opportunity to see wildlife and a changing landscape unlike what most traditional ice rinks offer. Some of the trails in Canada are lit to provide for nighttime skating. The new sport is gaining in popularity especially in Canada. In Canada there are currently at least a dozen forested trails while here in the U.S. there are just a few natural skating trails, primarily located on lakes.

YouTube courtesy of Andrew Kilness via Facebook.

Forest skating, while still an emerging sport, can be fairly inexpensive if you own a pair of ice skates. Most trails in use now can be found in public parks on lakes or in natural areas. There are other opportunities to skate in a nontraditional setting. Forest skating can actually take place on a pond or flooded swamp in your private woodland or on any frozen surface in the backcountry. When the environmental conditions are right—no snow and freezing temperatures—look for skating opportunities in forests, rural areas, or wilderness settings.

Some environmental conditions such as freezing rain or high temperatures can affect forest skating trails, and trails may require rebuilding of the ice surface. Forest skating trails can be narrow and while narrow trails don't easily accommodate a lot of skaters at one time they can allow for a more intimate forest and wildlife experience. Some forest skating trials in Canada have paths that branch off from the main loop to allow skaters to explore changing scenery.

Ice safety is the number one priority. Always check that ice on lakes is at least 4-5 inches thick before skating. Ice conditions can be inconsistent and change quickly. If skating in a rural natural area, check ice thickness and take backcountry safety precautions. Wearing a helmet is a good idea.

While Minnesota lacks designated forest skating trails, you can find ice skating trails through parks or non-forest areas. Two examples are in Maple Grove, Minnesota and the Skating Ribbon in Chicago's Maggie Daley Park. Some of these non-forest trails are open year-round and are built using a refrigeration system under the ice to control the ice temperature. Skaters can use these trails even during warmer seasons, or in some cases even year-around. Take some inspiration from the winter Olympics, and try some skating in your area. All forms of ice skating can combat the winter blues.

Supporting information and videos about forest skating, backcountry ice skating and ice trails in Canada and the United States.

County Living. Posted Jan 18, 2018, Forest Skating Is the Best Way to Spend Time Outdoors This Winter
Simplemost. Posted Jan 29, 2018 Forest Skating Is This Winter's Beautiful Cure For Cabin Fever
R Ludlow. Published Jan 17, 2017 Forest Skating
soltvedt. Published Mar 29, 2017Woods Ice Skating Downhill Hiking Trails Duluth
National Geographic. Published Dec 23, 2017 See Why Backcounty Ice Skating Is the Ultimate Winter Adventure, Short Film Showcase
Minneapolis Northwest Tourism. Central Park Ice Skating Trail Now Open
Gopher Aerial Published Mar 9, 2016 Maple Grove Central Park Outdoor Ice Skating Loop filmed by a drone