Tom Dee can’t help but marvel as he has walked the grounds of Canalside during the last couple of years and thought about how far the patch of waterfront land has come during the last half-decade.
It doesn’t matter what time of year, either.
The concerts, fitness classes and festivals of the warmer months have given way to winter in recent weeks – albeit in fits and starts – and throngs have made their way onto The Ice at Canalside, the centerpiece of what has become Western New York’s outdoor winter playground.
“Eight years ago, there was an abandoned building here that had homeless people living in the basement,” said Dee, a South Buffalo native and president of Erie Canal Development Corp., which oversees Canalside. “This was total urban blight. Now we have lines for people to come onto one of the greatest ice surfaces that can be imagined because it is outside. It adds to the thrill.”
As Canalside has grown, so too have other outdoor winter offerings along the Buffalo waterfront, adding to a panoply of activities in a region known far and wide for its winter weather.
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“I’d like to think our health plan has helped change the paradigm and the thinking about cold weather in Buffalo being, ‘Stay home and eat chicken wings,’” said Julie Snyder, vice president of corporate relations for BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York, which sponsors The Ice at Canalside and Martin Luther King Jr. rinks in the city and the Healthy Zone rink in East Aurora.
From the city center on out, here’s a look of some of the top outdoor winter options.
44 Prime St.; canalsidebuffalo.com
Dee expects the number of skaters, ice bikers and curlers on The Ice at Canalside to approach 100,000 this winter season, double the number who did so during the inaugural season two years ago. Many will be BlueCross BlueShield members, who receive a $1 discount by showing their insurance cards, and make up about one in three Canalside skaters, Snyder said.
The ice surface – at 35,000 square feet – is about 2½ times the size of an NHL rink and the largest outdoor ice surface in the state, Dee said. The Winter Lodge
Generally, and weather-dependent, 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Visit canalsidebuffalo.com for more information. Cost is $6 for ages 13 and over: $4 for 6-12; free for 5 and under. Skate rentals costs $5 (toddler size 9 to an adult 13); locker rental costs $3. Suit Skate runs from noon to 2 p.m. Thursdays at a discounted $5 admission rate to encourage downtown workers to spend up to an hour on the ice and burn off as much as 500 calories. Show your BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York membership card and receive a $1 off general skate admission and $1 off skate rental discount. Also receive 5 percent off the $39 individual and $109 family season passes. Curling, ice biking and broomball also are part of the ice-time fun.
Performax Pond Hockey Festival: 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 29. Youth and adult divisions. Register at PerformaxHockey.com.
Tim Hortons Backyard Classic: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 4-5: Ninth annual tourney will move to Canalside this year and raise money for Buffalo Sabres Sled Hockey. It also will feature full-size nets and goalies. Sign up at timhortonsbackyardclassic.com.
745 Seneca St., larkinsquare.com
Larkinville Ice Festival: The event runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 28 in the square and nearby. The family friendly event teams up neighborhood businesses and includes a Buffalo “Snow Roll.” Buffalo Slow Roll will lead the ride, which starts at 12:30 p.m. outside Buffalo Distilling Co., 800 Seneca St.; learn more at slowrollbuffalo.org.
Larkin Square will host Snowga – outdoor yoga – at 11 a.m. and noon, and also plans outdoor pickleball, a sledding hill, face painting, spin art and performers from Larkinville’s soon-to-open circus arts studio, the Bird’s Nest. Flying Bison, 745 Seneca St., will feature ice carvings and Hydraulic Hearth, 716 Swan St., will get things started at 10:30 a.m. with its annual Bagels and Brooze brunch in collaboration with BreadHive. Parking is free. “Our Larkinville Ice Fest is the perfect reason to be out enjoying Buffalo all year round,” said Leslie Zemsky, Larkin Square “director of fun.”
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Martin Luther King Park
Best Street at Fillmore Avenue; bfloparks.org/parks
Skating is free – and weather dependent. “We generally need five days well below freezing” for skating in the park water basin, Snyder said. Once ice conditions are right, rink hours will run from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Friday and noon to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For updates, call a dedicated hotline at 838-1249, Ext. 17.
359 Ganson St., buffaloriverworks.com
This $20 million-plus complex includes twin rinks largely protected from the snow and wind, but not the temperature. Open skating varies and is available mostly on weekends. Visit the website or call 342-2292 for times and days. Cost is $5 for those 6 and older and free for those 5 and under; Independent Health members receive $1 off by presenting their insurance card. Skate rental runs $5. Skate-and-shoot sessions also run at various times. The Buffalo Curling Club offers lessons and events several times a week. A party of eight can sign up for lessons and a game on the website.
Buffalo Nordic Ski Club
Those with skis can join this loosely knit club – for $15 as an individual, $30 as a family – and head out with fellow members on regular excursions in Western New York and beyond. Club President James Klein also hosts free learn to cross-country ski lessons for the public that start at 10 a.m. every snowy Sunday at the Rose Garden in Delaware Park. To sign up or learn more, visit buffalonordic.org. The website also has a lengthy list of trail sites across the region.
POINTS EAST AND NORTH
Akron Falls and Como Lake county parks
These Erie County sites at 44 Parkview Drive, Akron, and 2220 Como Park Blvd., Lancaster, respectively, have outdoor ice rinks where visitors can skate free as weather allows. As with all Erie County parks, those with cross-country skis or snowshoes are welcome. Visit erie.gov/parks or call 858-8513 for winter sports and activities updates.
Byrncliff Resort and Conference Center
This summertime golf resort at 2357 Humphrey Road in Varysburg turns into a winter wonderland that includes 12 miles of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trail, as well as the Candyland Sledding Hill. For information on lodging and winter sports rates, visit byrncliff.com
Old Fort Niagara
This historic fort at the northern end of the Robert Moses Parkway, near Youngstown will host a special event from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 4. Families are invited to experience mid-18th century winter life at the fort with activities that include a 2 p.m. snowshoe patrol. Admission is charged. Visit oldfortniagara.org for more info. The park also includes land for cross-country skiers and snowshoers.
Reservoir and DeVeaux Woods state parks
These parks – which flank each other and the Robert Moses Parkway near the Niagara River Whirlpool Rapids in Niagara Falls – offer free ice skating at their rustic rinks, weather permitting. Skate rentals are unavailable. Both rinks are open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 284-5778 for more information.
The nature preserve at 93 Honorine Drive in Cheektowaga offers a large selection of snowshoes and limited number of cross-country skis for rent – at $5 and $8 respectively – from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, 1 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 4:30 p.m. Jan. 29, Feb. 5, 19 and 26 and March 5. Infant/toddler sleds also can be rented for $5. Call the education center at 683-5959 to check weather conditions. The center offers five interpretive trails, all shorter than a mile, and serves hot cocoa for $1 at the rental station. A rustic lodge allows for a warm-up. The site will host its Winter Wonderland open house from noon to 4 p.m. on Feb. 11 with exhibits, a scavenger hunt and free ski and snowshoe rentals. There also are several learn to cross-country ski lessons. For more information, visit reinsteinwoods.org.
Buffalo Ski Club
This club is the closest downhill operation to Buffalo. Based at 7414 State Road (Route 240) in Colden, its 43 trails cover three ski areas — Sitzmarker Ski Club, Ski Tamarack and Buffalo Ski Club – on 300 acres. For information on membership and non-membership programs, rates and trail conditions, visit buffaloskiclub.com.
Chestnut Ridge County Park
Toboggan chutes are open, weather permitting, from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends and holidays outside the casino at 6121 Chestnut Ridge Road. The sled hill is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. As is the case with Erie County parks, those with cross-country skis or snowshoes are welcome to come on site. Visit erie.gov/parks or call 858-8513 for winter sports and activities updates. Special events this season include Winterfest from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 29. The free family event includes sledding, tobogganing and snowboarding, marshmallow roasting, arts and crafts, and more.
This Erie County park at 2084 Emery Road in South Wales hosts downhill skiing as weather allows from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends and holidays, and 4 to 8 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays. Visit erie.gov/parks or call 858-8513 for winter sports and activities updates.
Healthy Zone Rink
As is the case at Canalside and RiverWorks, chillers can keep this rink at 41 Riley St. in East Aurora open even on many days when the temperature bubbles above the freezing mark. Public skates on the covered ice surface run from 7 to 8:45 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 1 to 2:20 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; special extra open skates from 1 to 2:20 p.m. Monday and Feb. 15 and 16. It costs $5 to skate and $3 to rent skates; BlueCross BlueShield members receive $1 off by presenting their insurance card. For more information, including a calendar of events, visit thinkrink.org. The 4-acre site, a half block off Main Street in the village, includes locker rooms and a 5,000-square-foot, timber-framed warming lodge.
HoliMont Ski Area
Construction on the WestMont Ridge site means no cross-country skiing or ice skating this season, but 52 slopes and 135 acres of downhill ski trail remain ready at 6921 Route 242 in Ellicottville. For conditions, hours and rates, visit holimont.com.
Holiday Valley Ski Area
This resort at 6557 Holiday Valley Road, Ellicottville, features downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and an opportunity to ride the Sky Flyer Mountain Coaster through part of its woodlots. For information on lodging, rates and discounts, visit holidayvalley.com.
The familiar resort at 10296 State Road in Glenwood – where many a Western New Yorker has learned to downhill ski – is open under new management, with more family friendly events, a return of the weekend Dawn Patrol and 30 percent more snow-making power. For information on rates and discounts, visit kbski.com.
Peek’ n Peak resort
This spot at 1405 Old Road in Clymer offers alpine and Nordic skiing and snow tubing during the winter months. The resort has buy-one, get-one learn-to-ski and ride packages this month. For more info, visit pknpk.com.
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon