So it turns out the Scotties Tournament of Hearts is not the only reason everyone will have their eyes on Central Alberta in late February. There’s another huge event happening right down the street in Sylvan Lake – the North American Marathon Speed Skating Championships.
That’s right, all of North America is invited to participate or watch the championships. So what is marathon speed skating?
Mike Messing, chair of the Foothills Speed Skating Marathon Association says that it’s nothing like short track speed skating. “A big difference is not only just distance, marathon speed skating is generally held, especially in North America, outside.”
There is one small issue if the tournament was to go right now. Sylvan Lake is on thin ice, literally. But that doesn’t worry organizers.
“We still have five weeks to go. We can’t even think about another five weeks of this weather,” says Messing. And he has a point. We’re experiencing really high global warming temperatures right now. (Oh please don’t worry, if the earth was getting hotter, that would only be an inconvenient truth).
“The ice in general is actually thick enough on the lake. If we have four or five days of -20C at night that’s all we need,” says Messing.
Sylvan Lake is definitely going to put on a show with all those tourists in town. “If the weather cooperates it’s going to be quite a festive atmosphere.”
And let’s not forget about the skating which takes place on Sylvan Lake and covers 5 kms. Racers go around the track five times for the 25 km race, 10 times for the 50 km race and 20 times for the 100 km race. The races take place over the Feb. 23-25.
Another way marathon speed skating differs from other speed skating is the ice surface is unpredictable. “You’re dealing with completely natural ice, although we’ve tried to make it as smooth as possible, but there are cracks, there are uneven spots, it’s definitely not like the indoor oval in Calgary,” says Messing.
Simply put, the elements have to factor into your skate. Ignoring the elements could cost you.
“If it’s cold you make sure you bundle up because the scary part quite often is you’re so into the skating, you don’t even notice your ears are freezing.”
This is not an issue for the experienced skaters who know what to wear to compete in all winter temperatures. But there is the opportunity for fans or beginners to try out the 5 km track on Feb. 25th.
“At one o’clock it opens up for everybody. And it doesn’t matter if you have hockey skates, or whatever you have on. Anybody can go on the track and do a minimum of five kilometres, or do 10 kilometres or even do 50 kilometres.”
Last year the annual Sylvan Lake Ice Marathon saw temperatures as low as -24C, but had up to 400 spectators at the event.
This year, who knows what the weather will be. What’s for certain is there will be a major contingent of attendees from all over North America, and possibly an overflowing crowd checking out Marathon Speed Skating in Sylvan Lake.
For more information on the sport or the championships, visit www.slimarathon.webs.com.