Future Hayley Wickenheisers and Wayne Gretzkys are going to have find new spots to practice their scoring instead of relying on backyard ice rinks to sharpen their skills.
That's because, according to researchers at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., who track the conditions of backyard ice rinks, the number of days where it's possible to skate outside will melt away. On average, the number of days will shrink by 34 per cent in Toronto and Montreal, and by 19 per cent in Calgary by 2090.
'As soon as it warms up warmer than -5 C, people just stop skating, the ice isn't hard enough.' - Robert McLeman, RinkWatch.org
Robert McLeman is one of the founders of RinkWatch.org, an interactive website started in 2012 that allows users across North America to pin their own backyard or neighbourhood rinks to a map, submit photos and update conditions all winter long. McLeman said the group got over 10,000 observations in the first two years alone.
"We took the first two years of data from the project, and we calculated the average temperature that people skate at, then we put it into a global climate model that projects climate out to the year 2090 and we found that for this area for example, we'll lose about a third of our skating days over the course of coming decades," McLeman told host Craig Norris on CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition Thursday. The full results were recently published in the peer-reviewed journal, The Canadian Geographer.
'Barely a month' of skating days
McLeman said the group used data from the intergovernmental panel on climate change A2 emissions scenario to predict skating days for Montreal, Calgary and Toronto.
"Last winter, we had 45 to 50 days [in Kitchener], so a really good year in 2090 will look like 30 days or just barely a month," he said.
In Montreal, an excellent skating season will be about 50 days long, while Calgarians will face a skating season that looks a lot more like what Toronto gets now, according to McLeman.
"There are few things more Canadian than going for a skate outdoors. As winters grow milder, we will lose more of those opportunities," he wrote in an email.
How cold does it have to be?
McLeman said to have a rink that lasts, temperatures need to be about –10 C for four or five days to establish the rink's base. Once the rink is built, the temperature needs to be at least –5 C daily to stay skateable.
"As soon as it warms up warmer than –5 C, people just stop skating, the ice isn't hard enough," said McLeman.
That's proving to be a challenge across Canada this year with warm weather and a green Christmas in the forecast for many.
"The very first rink was reported in Fort McMurray, Alberta, so Northern Alberta and then along the front range of the Rockies. So, for example, in Montana and in the suburbs west of Denver, we've got rinks going," said McLeman.
"We'll start to see some this weekend, it's getting cold towards Winnipeg so we'll start seeing more rinks on the Prairies over the next few days but nothing east of the Great Lakes."