Winter Wonderland Skateway In Lac-Des-Loups

By Kait Labbate

With freshly sharpened skates and smooth groomed ice on the trail, I glide through the snow-covered forest feeling a sense of peace that only the winter woods can give. I’m skating through the evergreen forest in the foothills of Gatineau Park at Patinage-en-Forêt, as the French call it, a 3 km meandering skateway built in the woods by property owner Dave Mayer. 

For the past few years, I’ve heard of friends venturing beyond Ottawa city limits to this enchanting winter skateway, and this year I finally took my turn venturing across the Ottawa River to experience Lac-des-Loups for myself.

I arrive at a rustic chalet outfitted with a simple pressboard, picnic tables and the soothing smell of hot chocolate. My friends and I are welcomed by the staff who greets us with a joyful “Bonjour.” As we tie our laces, we are warmed by the indoor wood stoves at either end of the building. We see families with young children learning to skate, couples out for a romantic winter afternoon, and friends, who like us, are here to spend some undistracted quality time outdoors.

We step right out of the chalet and onto the ice, past the young skaters racing each other in circles, the figure skaters practicing tricks and through the archway that marks the start of the trails as we venture into the woods.

The skateway leads us through a diverse section of forest with maps that guide us back and forth throughout the loops. We skate under the pine tree canopies into open expanses where sunlight floods the pathways. Occasionally we cross paths with those snowshoeing on the interweaving trails through the woods, all of us so at one with nature that we catch each other off guard.

We stop and rest at the wooden benches that line sections of the trails and watch the finches and blue jays nibble at a birdfeeder nearby and notice the quietness of the forest. Beyond the gentle sound of the chirping birds and the skates on the ice, it is quiet. There is no road noise or city sounds, just us and nature.

As the sun draws low, we head back to the chalet and sit at the outdoor fire post-skate enjoying the rustic smell of campfire. As I sit there taking it all in  I overhear so many different languages from those around us and I call to mind the map in the rustic chalet, dotted with pins from visitors who have journeyed here from all around the world, and I am reminded of what a magical place this really is.