For Winterlude launch, the snow must go on
The 50 workers who turn Jacques Cartier Park into a snow playground for Winterlude do everything that a ski hill operator does, and one more: First they have to build the hill. The slides on the Gatineau waterfront will open at 9 a.m. Friday, the first day of the festival. One set takes single sliders, another is big enough for small groups, and one is for people riding in tubes. But the park has only a small natural hill. That means logistics manager Christian Fauvelle is in charge of making and shaping 33,000 cubic metres of snow.
Christian Fauvelle leads 50 workers who transform Jacques Cartier Park into a Winterlude playground. Tom Spears / Ottawa Citizen
His workers have been at it for a month.
It takes about 15 days. It s weather-dependent. This year it took a few more days because of the mild weather, he said Thursday. Just like the snowmakers at a ski resort, the Winterlude crews can make snow at peak efficiency when the temperature is about -10 C. Making the snow is just the beginning. The second job is to push the snow around to avoid getting a single pile that s too high to work with, and to create several separate hills.
They borrow snow clearing machines from the City of Gatineau, but there s also a big variety of other machines involved to make the snow, move it around, carve in the channel-shaped slides with a bulldozer and then a backhoe, and groom the park s flat spaces with the same machine that grooms ski hills. The snow also has to be packed down hard to reduce the air pockets and make a solid base. Water goes on top of the slide to create an ice surface.
They ve been icing everything for the past week, Fauvelle said.
Work was still going on the nearly finished slides Thursday and workers were shovelling away snow and slushing the slides. Like a hockey referee patching a hole in a rink, they apply a little slush to fill in holes and rough patches. Insulated rubber gloves are a must. So are cleats on their boots as they walk up the icy slides.
The objective from the get-go for us is to ice as much as we can when its cold so there;s a good thickness of ice on the slides, Fauvelle said. That way they can resist a mild spell better. Other Friday events include ice sculpting competition that runs all day in Confederation Park, and the opening night kickoff event, also at Confederation Park, at 7 p.m. (Canadian Heritage organizers promise percussion and colourful characters starting at 6:45 p.m.) The festival continues through Feb. 15. Meanwhile, The City of Ottawa got a jump on the festival Thursday with the launch of city-sponsored Winterlude events at Lansdowne Park, City Hall and Shenkman Arts Centre.
Brushing up on their curling at Lansdowne Park were, from left, councillors Bob Monette and David Chernushenko; Randy Boissonnault, parliamentary secretary to the minister of canadian heritage; Mayor Jim Watson; Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi; Ottawa councillor Mark Taylor. Darren Brown / Ottawa Citizen
The crews who serve up BeaverTails were getting ready too. In the Rideau Canal hut near Fifth Avenue, Andrea Polgar had a slow day on Thursday as skaters were few, but she knows that will change. Mostly people want the Killaloe Sunrise, she says, the one covered in sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice. Why that one? we asked.
It s the mix of sweet and sour. You get the best of both worlds in one Beaver Tail.
Kay Fung, left, and Gigi Tuet, both from Vancouver, enjoy some signature Ottawa snacks on Thursday. Crews at BeaverTails huts, meantime, were gearing up for what they expect will be a busy weekend. The Rideau Canal will stay open to skaters if weather permits. Darren Brown / Ottawa Citizen
She figures her location sells hundreds a day. On a weekend, probably in the thousands. For now all eyes are on the ice and the forecast. The Rideau Canal Skateway s manager, Bruce Devine, says he s hopeful of letting skating continue through the weekend, even with the thaw expected Sunday. At least it won t be sunny, he said. It s a challenging year, but we have a good ice thickness. On the ice surface that is open from Bank to Somerset, the gliding surface is in very good condition.
That s four kilometres. Another half-kilometre north of Somerset Street will open at 8 a.m. Friday.