I prefer skating outdoors to the indoor arena skating variety. Indoor arenas keep humidity and temperature fairly regulated so that the ice is "optimal", but this is also done for the people sitting in the stands. It can't be too cold or people won't be in the arena watching. This is where outdoor ice is supremely better.
Ice gets harder as it gets colder which makes it faster to skate on. The puck slides more true on the ice as there's no slush and rarely any chips because, again, the ice is harder. While I completely understand that not a lot of people enjoy -30C temperatures with a windchill, there's something about stepping onto ice that feels like a polished stone and taking those first few strides.
Another part of the greatness of skating outdoors? The fresh air. If you walk into an arena, you get that chlorinated-ammonia scent that fills your nostrils. That's a very recognizable scent, and, to me, is what makes watching a hockey game in an arena memorable. But you certainly don't get that outdoors. And thankfully, you don't get the locker room scent outdoors either.
Instead, you get fresh air. You maybe catch the smell of smoke from a burning fireplace. There's something magical about skating down the boards and breathing in deeply, feeling the frost move into your body as the cold air hits your lungs. I can't explain why I like it - it's just one of those things that makes skating outdoors incredible.
There are a few things that should be noted when skating outdoors, though. First, you need to bundle up. I can't stress this enough. Skate boots aren't winter boots, and I've seen too many people come off the ice complaining of cold feet only to get into the clubhouse or skate change facility to have their "toes burn". Guess what, skater? You've got frostnip! It's not quite frostburn, but you're getting close. Bundle up those toes!
Make sure you keep all extremities warm! I have seen kids wearing hockey gloves because they want to be like their favorite NHL players, but they come in and complain of frozen fingers. No one is going to think you're any less of a hockey player if you wear mittens, and your five fingers together share more warmth than they do individually separated. Unless it's a warm winter day, go with mittens to save your fingers. They'll thank you later.
Faces, ears, and noses also need warmth so invest in a good toque, a neck warmer, a scarf, or a balaclava. These should be used in tandem - toque and neck warmer, toque and scarf, etc. - to ensure that all facial features remain warm and cozy. You may think you look like a dork, but I assure you that having frostbitten cheeks, ears, or a frostbitten nose is a thousand times worse for the winter months. Use your noggin and save your face.
Just as an aside, you may discover that your neck warmer, balaclava, or scarf develops some condensation on it as you skate thanks to your breathing. This is an unavoidable fact, and if you have facial hair you may find that your chosen facewear has frozen to it. Your first reaction may be to remove that facial wear, but use your noggin! That condensation is only frozen on the very outer layer because you're continually breathing! Just keep going and stop worrying about what you look like. Fashion and style has no bearing on anything when it's -30C out, but frostbite does. Having wet skin is asking for frostbite to attack. Again, use your noggin.
Ok, enough with the frostbite PSA! It's almost time for some outdoor skating, so if you're in an environment where this is possible, strap on the skates and head out when your local rink is ready! I can't wait for it to get started here in my town, so you know what I'll be doing most nights this winter!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!