I laced up my skates in a chic and shiny warming hut cloaked in reflective mirrors before gliding onto the frozen Red River winding alongside downtown Winnipeg, Canada.
It was minus-1 Fahrenheit, but the ice was crowded with happy hockey players and families, and folks on skates commuting, pushing strollers and walking dogs.
Manitoba’s prairie capital, about 600 miles northwest of Minneapolis, straddles the Red and Assiniboine rivers whose confluence lies at a 6,000-year-old meeting place called the Forks.
Freezing over in winter, the rivers form a four-mile-long linear skating rink called the Red River Mutual Trail, one of Canada’s longest skating routes.
Since 2010, the trail has been dotted with creative and often wacky artist and architect-designed warming huts.
Here’s a look at some of them as the season draws to a close. Unless they melt, deflate or expire, some previous years’ winners reappear year after year. There were 17 past winners this year, so you can expect to see some of these next year.
This year’s piece de resistance was a magnificent hollow cube called the Stackhouse made of ice slabs designed by American artist Anish Kapoor of Chicago’s Cloud Gate fame. It reminded me of the funky deconstructed ice-block igloo warming hut created in 2012 by Frank Gehry, architect of L.A.’s Walt Disney Concert Hall.
There were six new additions for 2017, including a double row of dangling, almost-clear neon orange plastic strips.
“Open Border” extended across the river, and you could skate right through it.
I took refuge from an icy breeze in a bright blue box with an orange wind funnel called “Wind Catcher.”
But I also hung out in a rocking chair in the electric green-furnished kitchen of “Hygge House,” complete with taxidermy on the wall. (“Hygge” is the Danish word for the concept of coziness that, the New Yorker reported, has taken the world by storm. Or by calm.)
Then I wrapped myself in one of five giant wool blanket/curtains of “Red Blanket” hanging from a railway bridge over the river.
The warming huts are one of the latest of several events Winnipeg has hosted on its frozen rivers over the years. The events include fashion shows, offbeat ice games and interactive art exhibitions to be explored on blades.
Since 2013, there has even been an iconic fine dining restaurant popping up on the Assiniboine River ice for three weeks every January and February called Raw: Almond.
Four of us took our fur rug-covered log post seats at long, communal tables inside a creative domed wooden structure raised on the ice without nails by artist-architect Joe Kalturnyk, owner of the city’s former Raw: Gallery. The stylish temporary restaurant is a different design every year.
Guest chefs — this year all were from across Canada in honor of the country’s 150th birthday — created lavish multicourse meals in three dinner seatings daily as well as weekend brunches.
Warmed slightly by an eco-stove, we dined with parkas on top of 6 feet of ice on six courses, including oxtail terrine, smoked scallops and venison crafted by chef Tyrone Welchinski of Winnipeg’s King + Bannatyne gourmet sandwich eatery.
Info: The Red River Mutual Trail, the skating/walking trail that runs alongside the city on the Red River, is usually open from January through early March. Winners of the annual warming hut contest are posted at Warminghuts.com.