The wandering jet stream has caused much wringing of numb hands in Toronto this winter, but the displaced Arctic air has had a frigid benefit for those who carve up skating rinks.
The city found itself in an awkward situation this week with the majority of its outdoor refrigerated rinks closed for the season, despite weather that was keeping natural rinks, like Torontonians themselves, in a cold, hardened state.
On Thursday, the city announced that corporate cash would help them pay staff and fire compressors to keep an extra 11 rinks open until March 16.
Whether those compressors will have to do any actual work to keep things solid remains to be seen. The point is, you still have three weekends to skate. Just don't forget your scarf.
Unseasonal for the period
Basing its schedule on normal winter weather, the city shuts down two-thirds of its 52 outdoor artificial skating rinks the last weekend of February.
"In early March, above-freezing temperatures and especially the higher sun angle literally chew away at the north end of our ice [where the reflection off boards emphasizes the sun's effect]," says James Dann, the parks department manager who oversees the city's skating rinks.
Mr. Dann concedes that there's not much solar chewing going on this week, but says the schedule aims to provide the maximum amount of skating over a winter.
"We allocate our resources for the longest possible season. We take the end of February as a date when the compressors can't reliably make and maintain ice at most locations and we work backwards from there."
Mr. Dann points out that 90 per cent of the city's 52 artificial outdoor rinks are open by the end of November, a full month earlier than natural rinks could conceivably open.
In a typical year we would be having above-freezing temperatures now, says Mr. Dann. "Historically, the compressors just can't keep up, even at full steam."
That being said, Mr. Dann says they are already looking at moving the closing date back a week for 2015.
How do we compare?
It's tempting to ask whether other cities keep their artificial rinks open into the sunny spring days of March, but it's an impossible comparison. Montreal has two artificial outdoor rinks, Hamilton has one and Calgary has none. No other cities come close to the 52 outdoor artificial rinks Toronto runs and has to budget for.
So, where to skate?
These 28 city-run, outdoor rinks are open until March 16: Alexandra Park/Harry Gairey, Broadlands CC, CedarvaleAIR, Colonel Sam Smith Park, Dieppe Park, Dufferin Grove Park, Giovanni Caboto, Glen Long CC, Greenwood Park, High Park, Humber Valley Rink, Irving W Chapley CC, Kew Gardens, Mel Lastman Square, Monarch Park, Nathan Phillips Square, Otter Creek Centre, Ramsden Park, Regent Park (North Park), Regent Park (South Park), Rennie Park, Riverdale Park East, Scarborough Civic Centre/Albert Campbell, Sir Adam Beck Rink, Sunnydale Acres Rink, Trinity Bellwoods Park, West Mall Rink and Westway Outdoor Rink. The Natrel Rink at Harbourfront Centre will also be open until March 16.
A $270,000 donation from Canadian Tire and Scotiabank will fund the extended season at 11 city-run rinks, but no cold cash is required to keep at least two dozen community-run, natural rinks running into March this year.
Guy Rouggieri, 58, is a refrigeration technician who helps to voluntarily maintain two unrefrigerated pads at Pearen Park, near Weston Road and Eglinton Avenue West. "The weather's been good for ice this year, if nothing else," says Mr. Rouggieri. "There's still plenty of ice in the base."
He's projecting another two weeks of good ice, which would make it the longest season in recent memory. Then, expressing what must be a minority opinion in Toronto right now, he echoes James Dann's wariness of the sun's warming rays. "The sun is our worst enemy. That takes the biggest toll."
Or, instead of a quick trip to the local pad, perhaps this is the spring for a day trip to the wooded Rouge Valley, just north of Steeles in Markham. Amenities such as music and lights have modernized this quaint Olympic-sized pad, the history of which goes back almost a hundred years. Adults $5, children $2.50, cedarena.ca.