How 3 friends transformed this frozen Yellowknife lake into a 'winter wonderland'

Range Lake in Yellowknife is home this winter to a skate path, nine hockey rinks and two cross-country ski trails, in part to the work of three friends.

'Why don't we make something out here?’

Matt Mossman, Stu Impett and Rudolph Swanepoel have spent countless hours grooming Yellowknife's Range Lake for the whole neighbourhood to enjoy. (John Van Dusen/CBC News)

Stu Impett circles the perimeter of a frozen Range Lake in his pickup truck equipped with a snowplow, clearing a recent snowfall off a more than two kilometre-long skate path.

Meanwhile, Matt Mossman glides around on the inside track with his snowmobile, laying down one of two trails for cross-country skiers.

In another corner of the lake, Rudolph Swanepoel hops on his quad, decked out with a snowplow, clearing the surface on one of nine hockey rinks.

The three friends and business partners have turned the lake into the epitome of a Canadian winter wonderland.

Clearing Range Lake

3 years ago
Duration 0:40
By truck, snowplow and quad, Matt Mossman, Stu Impett and Rudolph Swanepoel clear Range Lake in Yellowknife.

"It seemed to be a relatively under-utilized lake. I mean, it was a main thoroughfare for snow machines," Impett said.

"So we were kind of sitting around thinking, 'why don't we make something out here?'"

The idea quickly snowballed.

"We were having a coffee one day and Rudolph, our business partner, said, 'hey, why don't we do this concept of a track and rinks?' And it just kind of took off from there," Mossman said.

Since then, the trio has spent countless hours carefully grooming the lake for the whole neighbourhood to enjoy. As a result, Impett was told the nearby Range Lake North School is able to offer after-school skating and ski clubs for three weeks in December.

And three-year-old Isabella Jacobsen can practice her cross-country skiing.

Skiing on Range Lake

3 years ago
Duration 0:34
Three-year-old Isabella Jacobsen and her parents, Petter and Terri, practice their cross -country skiing on Range Lake.

With matching skis, Jacobsen and her dad Petter and mom Terri spent one recent Sunday afternoon carving up the lake.

At a time when going anywhere can be a challenge, Petter said it means "pretty much everything, because we can go outside and enjoy the great outdoors here every day. It's so accessible."

We have a winter wonderland out here, let's get out and enjoy it.- Matt Mossman, Yellowknife resident

To form the trail, Impett borrowed a cross-country ski trail maker from a friend and Mossman hooked it up to his snowmobile.

"My wife and I love to cross-country ski, and we thought it'd be a good thing for the community to get out here, seeing as no one's going anywhere due to what's happening in and around the world," Mossman said.

"And we thought, 'Well, we have a winter wonderland out here, let's get out and enjoy it.'"

Getting a pickup truck on the lake with a snowplow, however, required a little bit of planning and manoeuvring. The lake is surrounding by homes. 

Impett, who's been a Yellowknife resident since 1985, recently moved to the neighbourhood because he wanted to get closer to the outdoors.

Impett said they measured the ice and consulted ice-road builders.

"So we kind of knew what we were doing," he said.

To get on the ice, he drives the truck down in-between two homes, squeezes through some hedges and rolls onto the lake. Then he gets to plowing.

The skate path connects the hockey rinks together. It also allows recent newcomers an opportunity to try a new sport.

Adrian Pearn skating on the trail that loops around Range Lake. The Australian recently moved to Yellowknife and has only skated a few times. (John Van Dusen/CBC News)

Adrian Pearn moved to Yellowknife from Australia in February. The pilot decided to get some skates to help "fill in the winter." A roommate told him about the path on Range Lake so he decided to stop by.

"It's awesome," he said. "You kind of can't get much exercise with the weather." And yes, he said, "It's cold."

While Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories have been relatively unscathed by the pandemic, Impett said if there's another lockdown he hopes the lake will still be a place where people can come.

"It's quite easy to do a social distance out here, still have some type of normality by getting out snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, just getting out with their families and not being locked in four walls," Impett said.

"Because when it's dark and cold, even just getting outside and doing a quick 20 minute walk down a clear path on a lake is refreshing."