EDMONTON — Frigid temperatures and arctic air have left most of the western provinces shivering with wind chills dipping down to -55 C, forcing ski hills to close and even keeping owners of backyard rinks indoors.
"We're playing lots of board games and watching movies," said Lance Glor, who has a rink in his Edmonton backyard for his four children.
"It's pretty difficult. Anything less than -20, getting anyone on the rink is dangerous."
Environment Canada said all of Alberta and most of British Columbia and Saskatchewan, along with parts of Manitoba and Ontario, are under extreme cold weather warnings.
The wind chill can range between -40 C and -55 C in Edmonton and Calgary, it said.
Many of the ski hills in and around Edmonton and Calgary, as well as in the Rocky Mountains, have already been closed for several days due to extreme cold.
Paul Klann with the Edmonton Nordic Ski Club said people can still cross-country ski. But even on the city's popular Nordic trails at Goldbar Park, which is near Klann's home, the intense cold appears to be keeping people away.
"Christmas Day, we don't typically see a lot of people out here, but come Boxing Day you start to see a few more, and the numbers are definitely lower," said Klann, a former member of the national biathlon team.
"It depends on everyone's comfort level. I ski to almost any temperature, really. You just have to dress for it."
Environment Canada said cold, arctic air remains entrenched over western and central Saskatchewan with wind chills of up to -45 C.
Arctic outflow winds and low temperatures have also been forecast for much of British Columbia with the mercury dipping to near or below -20 C, it said. Extreme cold could persist into next week, the agency added.
The colder temperatures have been a blessing for Iceville, the largest outdoor rink on the Prairies, which is being built for the second year in a row at Regina's Mosaic Stadium, set to open at noon on New Year's Eve.
Mark Rathwell of the Regina Exhibition Association, which operates the stadium, said there was some freezing and thawing when crews were building the rink last year. But this year, it's been cold since they started building it two weeks ago.
Creating a rink on a field takes a lot of work because the field is built higher in the middle so that it drains. They have to build many layers of ice, starting from the outside in, he explained.
"This year, the icemakers told us we've had ideal conditions, said Rathwell with a laugh. "It's been cold."
Many cities in Western Canada have already opened emergency shelters and warming centres for people who aren't able to stay outdoors, including Vancouver, where it was -11 on Monday. That's almost a record low for the city, which was set in 1971 when it dipped to -12.8 degrees.
Edmonton officials said Monday they were suspending non-essential snow clearing due to the extreme cold, noting that it was risky for employees, contractors and their equipment.
The super-cold temperatures were still on their way to the Winnipeg area on Monday, including Oakbank, east of the capital where Andrew Mead said his two kids, aged 5 and 7, have been enjoying the family's backyard curling rink.
It was still a relatively balmy -10 there on Monday but a sharp drop was predicted to happen overnight, and to keep dropping later in the week when Mead and his family have an A-frame cabin rented in Riding Mountain National Park.
"As long as you're bundled up and dress OK, it's awesome to be outside on the cold days," he said. "We don't mind it at all."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 27, 2021.
Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press