My toes are tingling in the freezing cold. I can't feel my fingertips. But my legs keep rotating, pedaling across the smooth ice on a strange bike-like contraption mounted with an ice-skating blade instead of a front tire.

When I first heard about the Nestaweya River ice skating trail in Winnipeg, Manitoba, I knew I wanted to explore it. What better way to experience winter in the prairies than by gliding across six kilometres of frozen river banked by unique warming huts?

The only problem: I can’t skate.

Luckily, my inability to stay upright on two blades didn’t stop me, thanks to a cool mode of transportation: ice bikes.


What is an Ice Bike?

outdoor adventure in winterAlison Karlene Hodgins

Ice bikes are like regular bicycles, with a few notable differences.

First, ice bikes have a skating blade in place of a front tire. The back tire is studded, and a wide base surrounds the bicycle. Rather than falling over without a kickstand, the bicycle balances upright on the ice. The base has several tiny blades on the bottom. It’s kind of like using training wheels.

This is a single-speed bike. The front skate can be steered like a regular bike, though I found it a bit shaky to turn. To brake, you just pedal backwards.


Cycling the Nestaweya River Trail

what is an ice bikeAlison Karlene Hodgins

I rented my ice bike from Kendrick’s Outdoor Adventures. Located in a small hut right on the river, it was easy to find behind The Forks Market. This is where the Assiniboine and Red Rivers meet.

After getting set up on my bike, I started pedaling down the groomed trail, passing Zamboni drivers and graceful skaters. Cycling on ice was a decent workout. I travelled along the river trail, bouncing when I maneuvered over cracks in the ice. I propelled myself through a hanging banner of thick orange plastic streamers, emerging out the other side like a runner tearing through a finish line tape. Only, for me, this was just the beginning.

I cycled past unique warming huts that, I quickly realized, didn’t offer much warmth at all. Although a few of the structures provide some respite from the wind, they are not heated—these are actually intricate art displays. I saw a trio of showers, a neon Hygge House and a wide-mouthed cartoon-like character, among others. These art sculptures are the winners of Warming Huts: An Art + Architecture Competition on Ice.

ice biking in WinnipegAlison Karlene Hodgins

After half an hour of cycling in -16 C, I started to feel the chill seep into my socks. My fingers felt like icicles. Despite attempting to warm up in a cabin-like structure, I was ready to get out of the cold.

I pedaled back to the rental hut. After returning my ice bike, I numbly climbed the stairs to The Forks Market, where I defrosted with miso soup and gripped a hot chocolate to help regain dexterity in my hands.

By the time I left YWG, it was a balmy -31 C. My eyelashes and hair had started to freeze together. I felt proud to have experienced Winterpeg outdoors, ice biking on the Nestaweya River Trail, and I left Manitoba feeling certain of one thing: Winnipeggers are a hardy bunch.

outside exploring in the coldAlison Karlene Hodgins

If You Go:

  • It costs $23/hour to rent an ice bike
  • The trail is free to use
  • Other ways to experience the trail include skating, kick sledding and walking, fat biking or cross-country skiing on an adjacent trail
  • Check the trail conditions here
  • For more information, click here


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