By Bryan Renzoni
Buffalo may have the best summer weather in the country, but we are also notorious for rough winters.
However, this weather comes with a plethora of opportunities, especially at Canalside.
From skating, to drinking hot cocoa, to meeting with Santa, Canalside hosts a large variety of events that are fun for the whole family.
"Canalside is a great place to take your family and stroll along the towpaths, watch skaters, grab some hot chocolate or deep-fried Oreos, catch a magic show, and meet Santa," said Kaitlin McGee Chmura of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC).
Canalside was built around the Erie Canal, and features a large ice rink where open skating is available in the wintertime.
"The Erie Canal, opened in 1825, terminated at the exact location of the ice rink," said Chmura. "We have built this public space with the goal to educate our community on the historical significance of Buffalo and the Erie Canal."
The Erie Canal was used in the 1800s for traveling from town to town, and transporting goods as the United States was expanding westward.
Since its opening, the ice rink has been a huge success. According to Chmura, "since we opened the Ice at Canalside, presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield, in December 2014, more than 100,000 skaters, ice bikers and curlers have enjoyed wintertime at Canalside."
If people want to enjoy the ice in a different way, they can rent an ice bike. Since their creation in Buffalo a few years ago, ice bikes are gaining popularity in other large cities.
"If someone doesn’t know how to skate, no worries – you can hop on an ice bike and join the rest of the family out on the ice," said Chmura.
Starting this year, each skater will be required to sign a waiver. This and other information can be found on the website, www.canalsidebuffalo.com.
Ice skating lessons are also offered at Canalside for those who want to learn.
"We have partnered with Skate Great to offer weekly skate lessons for all ages. Be sure to sign up soon, spaces are filling up," said Chmura. The first session (five weeks) is $75, and the second session (six weeks) is $90. For pre-registration, go to www.sk8gr8.com.
There’s more to do around Canalside, as well. HarborCenter is a great place for those who like to watch a good game of ice hockey. The games are fun for the whole family, and are being played all the time. Chmura said.
"A fun family day out would be to check out a hockey game at HarborCenter, grab a bite to eat at 716 Food & Sport and then go ice skating."
When the weather gets chilly, families can go to the Canalside Lodge on the edge of the ice rink. Chmura also said, "If the little ones get cold, they can warm up in the Canalside Lodge presented by Airbnb. The Lodge has a number of food and drink options, as well as different programming and events throughout the winter."
There are also other family-friendly places like Tim Hortons and the Pizza Plant near Canalside, and some shops along Main Street.
As the holiday season is upon us, Canalside is offering a variety of deals that make it a bargain for all families. "We have a couple of fun things going on during the holiday season, including on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day … come wearing green, red and/or a Santa hat and your admission is $8, including skate rental," said Chmura. The usual price for admission and skate rental is $9 or $11, child and adult respectively.
When the holidays are over, the fun doesn’t end. Chillabration is a festival with four days full of fun activities for all. Chmura said, "In January we have Chillabration (Jan. 13-16, 2017), which is packed with fun outdoor winter activities for the whole family. During that weekend we also celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. with programming to tell his incredible story."
Canalside is also hosting new events this year, such as a Silent Disco, where visitors can dance like no one is listening. Chmura said, "We will have a Silent Disco on Jan. 28, 2017. Visitors will be able to purchase packages that include headphones and can choose from three DJ channels. Visitors will see participants dancing and rocking out but will not hear any of the music."
These types of events will continue right up until the end of winter.
Chmura continued, "Also new to Canalside is the ninth Annual Tim Hortons Backyard Classic on March 4-5, 2017; 400-plus participants of all ages compete in the tournament to support the Buffalo Sled Hockey Team."
Most of these events and activities require snow and winter weather.
So what happens if there’s another winter without snow? Chmura said, "Our system is designed to hold ice up to 40 degrees and other elements like rain and wind impact the ability for the system to maintain ice.
"We have a very experienced and hardworking crew of ice technicians that do everything they can to keep the ice open and safe." Chmura also said that Canalside tries to hold events, rain or shine.
With so many opportunities, Canalside is a great place for kids of all ages. The variety of events suits many kinds of people, and will create memories that last a long time.
"Canalside is a great place for people of all ages," Chmura said. "I love hearing about how families have made skating, ice biking, and curling at Canalside a part of their new winter traditions."
Bryan Renzoni is a freshman at Clarence High School.