Field of Play: Canada's big, beautiful backyard | Sports | CBC Sports

Field of Play: Canada's big, beautiful backyard

Posted: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 | 11:17 PM

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The vast Glacial Lake at Lake Louise, Alberta. (Scott Russell/ The vast Glacial Lake at Lake Louise, Alberta. (Scott Russell/

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After two weeks of travelling coast to coast, CBC's Scott Russell realized the things Canadians sometimes take for granted are arguably the most precious commodities we can count on our side of the ledger.

There it was, a sure sign of the Canadian winter if there ever was one.

You'd know it in an instant.

It appeared as a modest natural ice rink, barely beyond the woods in a tiny village somewhere north of the city. At either end, there were two goals with bright red pipes framing the twine. A couple of strings of Christmas lights had been hung between wooden poles to illuminate the surface into the frigid evening.

I suppose it was just someone's backyard rink, a personal labour of love, a welcome sight for a passerby.

And when I tweeted out a picture of the treasure I had just happened upon, the reaction on the social media network was swift. "Retweets" and "favourites" came flowing in from people in places all over the country and even some from folks who live abroad.

"Now this is #Canada!" I had written as a caption to the picture and the response was more than emphatic. 

"Makes us want to shut down the office and throw some skates on," replied @SportableSochi. 

"A thing of beauty, and a rare joy to behold," wrote @BFCWayne from Malibu, Calif.

"If you build it, they will come," said @Bob_Glaser of Los Angeles. 

"Wow! THAT'S SICK!!!SO JEALOUS!!!!" cried @Bvooch from his New Jersey home.

The point is this, the things we Canadians sometimes take for granted are arguably the most precious commodities we can count on our side of the ledger. These are the obvious, but often underappreciated, joys of living and playing in a winter nation like ours. And frequently, they are staring us right in the face.

Now if only we'd take the time to understand their magic.

I thought about all the things I'd seen out there in our awesome Canadian playground over the last couple of weeks that I'd spent travelling from coast to coast. 

I ruminated about the reconnection I'd made with our national pastime down at the Royal Canadian Curling Club in the east end of Toronto. I smiled as I thought about teaching first-timers/talk-show hosts Steven and Chris alongside a former Canadian champion and aspiring Olympian in the person of Jill Officer.

Officer plays second with the Jennifer Jones rink and was on the eve of her Olympic selection trials. But I marvelled at how she made this difficult sport look so easy and graceful. And I felt satisfied that Steven and Chris responded to the social nature of the game, while also appreciating the small victories including the skill required to aim at and hit a rock which seemed an impossible distance away.

Then, during the trials which unfolded in Winnipeg, I watched transfixed as Officer and her teammates made their Olympic dream happen by winning a spot at the Sochi Games. The same was true of Sault Ste Marie's Brad Jacobs. Fist pumping and whooping it up ensued just because they had all grasped the chance to perhaps challenge for a gold medal in Russia. It was unabashed joy in front of a full house at the MTS Centre. And it was also undeniably one of few things that could possibly displace the NHL Jets, even for a brief moment in time. 

Only in Canada, you say.

Well, yes, that might be the truth, but it's also part of what makes these sometimes unsung things that much sweeter to savour.

"Curling is a game that keeps you company," my esteemed colleague Vic Rauter of TSN had told me. 

He was dead right. 

Curling is a thing so Canadian and it evolves year after year right under our noses. It is a comforting sport, part of our folklore and tradition, and when the chance to wear the national colours happens, that's what matters most. But it also matters that Canadians share the game with others around the world, so that it continues to grow and prosper.

I had the chance to visit the site of the 1988 Calgary Games recently, and Canada Olympic Park is a testament to our love affair of so many winter things. 

There still exists, in that place, the ski jumping in-run, the sliding track and an alpine hill which has ample snow from mid-November through the end of March. There is also a "super pipe" for snowboarders, Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, multiple hockey arenas - and all of this high-performance richness flourishes close to the centre of one of the country's largest and most prosperous cities.

It doesn't just idly rest there, it luxuriates beneath a giant Canadian flag which waves proudly at the top of the hill and overlooks the Olympic cauldron below.

Further to the west is Lake Louise and it is, to my way of thinking, the jewel of the Rocky Mountains. There, almost without fail, World Cup ski racing commences the speed season year after year and has done so from the beginning of the 1980s. 

To have the chance to complete even a single run at Lake Louise is something to die for.

There is an experience in descending the mountain that amounts to the ultimate trip in the vast, wild expanse of Banff National Park. It is quite simply a thrill and a moment which, for the past 15 years, I have refused to miss.

This season, I spent only two days at Lake Louise, but felt compelled to take full advantage of my time there.

It was cold and the skating rink was not yet cleared. But the lake itself was frozen and so I decided to run the length of it from the Chateau to the Victoria glacier on the other side. There is an enormity to it which makes one feel small, but it's also empowering because of its incredible grandeur.

A guy on snowshoes who had come all the way from Croatia to see this magnificence took my picture in the centre of the snow covered lake. We were in the middle of nowhere. But at the same time, it struck me that we were at the heart of anything that seemed to matter.

A week later, I found myself in the comfort of our downtown television studio in the city. In one segment of the show, I introduced my CBC colleague Andi Petrillo, who had ventured out to Lake Louise to cover the women's racing. She was standing at the bottom of the downhill course telling us all about the minus-36 degree temperatures and the fact that icicles had formed on the ends of her long, brown hair.

"I hope you're warm back there in the studio," she laughed as she tossed it back to Toronto. Her cheeks were a blazing, bright red and I had to admire her fortitude in just getting the words out when I knew her mouth was frozen solid.

And the thing is, I wished with all my heart that I was out there too. 

That's why the sight of that little skating rink stirred something inside me the other day. It made me think of the happiest times and of being Canadian.

There is this lure that winter has for us. 

It's the magnetic attraction of our own big, beautiful backyard that is at once primal and expected, but also quite simply extraordinary.

We'd love to hear your stories and thoughts from the field of play here at  

This week, we'd like to ask you to send us your favourite picture from the Canadian winter playground. It could be an ice rink or a mountain top - as long as it's Canadian and in the winter, we'd be delighted to have you share it with us.
Follow Scott Russell on Twitter @SportsWkndScott and @TheFieldofPlay

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