Park the car. Get your bag out of your trunk. Walk through the doors of the front entrance of your local rink. Walk past the concession stand and get a whiff of snacks and other treats as you walk towards your locker room. Stroll into the locker room. It smells like old hockey gear and disinfectant spray. Plop down on the metal bench to slowly change into your gear. Make your way to the rink doors. Wait for the Zamboni to get off the ice. Hit the ice with a slow stride and start to get loose, take some shots, and stretch out alongside the bench.
Let's start over.
Park the car. Get your bag out of the trunk. Walk past the tall pines that hover over you at every turn you make. Walk along the manmade trail that has been paved by your predecessors and get a whiff of the cold, fresh air that seemingly has the power to clear any sinus infection as you walk towards the promised land. Stroll into the open area that is your rink. It smells like fresh air and greenery. Plop down on a piece of plywood or an ice bank to slowly change into your gear. Walk two feet to the edge of the frozen lake. Wait for the guys to finish up shoveling the ice. Hit the ice with a slow stride and start to get loose, take some shots, and stretch out alongside the mountain of snow that piled up from the "zamboni" session.
There are people out there that hate cold weather, snow, and wintertime in general. They loathe it. They'd rather stay inside, enjoy a hot chocolate, and sit by the fire as they avoid being outside at all costs. Those are the same people that have never had an opportunity to lace up a pair of skates and skate on a frozen lake or pond in the wintertime. For those of you who do know that feeling, the first below-freezing forecast in the wintertime brings a level of excitement that is unmatched. Whether your parents helped you lay a tarp down and flood a homemade outdoor rink or you ventured to your local pond or lake with a metal rod to test the ice's depth, that overwhelming feeling of "we can skate on this" is a feeling that can only be compared to the likes of school cancellations due to inclement weather - both positive outcomes determined by decision-making process of Mother Nature.
Once the stage has been set, there's nothing left but to bundle up and prepare yourself to brave the elements. This is what separates those that seek the warmth in the wintertime and those that wait with anticipation for sub-zero temperatures. You see, that feeling of the cold wind hitting your face and the almost endless real estate that you possess out on that ice paired with the scenic views and the feeling of not being boxed up inside a rink is an unparalleled thrill that cannot be recreated in any sport. Football in the snow sounds miserable, baseball in the snow sounds like a nightmare, and basketball in the snow is... well... impossible. Never has there been a warmer welcome to the blistering cold than from those that pursue a pond or a lake to skate on, but that begs the question - where is the best place to play pond hockey outdoors? Sure, your neighbor's dad ended up getting a set of boards for their rink this year and the old-timer that maintains the local park's rink splurged and got actual nets for the teenagers to enjoy in the wintertime, but we're talking strictly terrain controlled by the climate. Without further ado - here's our list of the coolest places to play pond hockey.
#5: Lake Morey
We round out the top five with Lake Morey - a Nordic & Ice Skating Center located in Fairlee, Vermont. It's home to the longest maintained ice skating trail in the United States. Just like how figure skaters and hockey players can get along during an open skate, I can only imagine Nordic ice skaters and hockey players who just want to go out for a rip can get along here. Home to those who skate trails and to those who participate in the rink's pond hockey tournaments, Lake Morey is quite the sight to see - especially beautiful on a sunny, windless day. One might say that there's definitely More-y than meets the eye (I'll show myself out).
#4: Portage Lake
Ever been to Alaska? If you answered no, then close your eyes and picture the movie Ice Age coming to life. Lake Portage meets that standard to a T. If you ever get a chance to skate on this lake, just know that you're skating around with thousands of years of history hovering over you in the form of glacial advances that form the beautiful snowy mountains that create a picturesque backdrop. You're in the thick of it. You're in the heart of what makes skating outdoors one of the coolest winter activities that you can take part in. With scenic overlooks, jaw-dropping views, and sometimes a pristine sheet of ice to glide across, playing a little pond hockey on Anchorage Alaska's local body of water is breathtakingly spectacular.
#3: Lake Säbysjön
photo credit: Cheap Snow Gear Ltd.
This one joins Lake Morey as an anomaly given the fact that it's not technically a pond that you can play hockey on, but given the fact that this Nordic skating track is seven miles long, you should be able to carve out a small patch to play some stick and puck on an off day. Besides, if someone asks you what you're doing, just say "jag älskar att spela hockey" and they'll nod and understand. For those of you that don't know what that means or didn't take the time to look up what that meant on Google Translate, it means "I love to play hockey" and that's all the full-time path monitor and volunteer park ranger for a Nordic skating track in Järfalla will have to hear to let it slide. All that to say, this track is beautiful. It's plowed to perfection and the endless skyline continues throughout the duration of the skate - making it the perfect place to crack jokes about skating suicides on this path. Needless to say, Herb Brooks would've had a field day on this bad boy.
#2: Lake Weissensee
I'll be honest, when I think of playing hockey, the first country that comes to mind isn't Austria (sorry, Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner). With that being said, Lake Weissensee has to be one of the most impressive bodies of water that freezes over to serve skaters with a refrigerated slate that is not only unrivaled in its views but also in how long its stands the test of both climate and time as one of the "largest continuously frozen and prepared natural ice surface in Europe" as it freezes over late-November and stays frozen until the beginning of March. I don't know how much of the above picture was filtered and edited on VSCO, but if that's genuinely a photo that you can post while using the "#nofilter" hashtag, then Lake Weissensee could crack the top spot and give our next lake a run for its money.
#1: Lake Louise
Lake Louise in Banff, Alberta. People travel here by the thousands to see it during the summer, and the numbers are staggering in the wintertime as well. This is by far one of the most sensational views that pond hockey has to offer. As mountains stand tall in place of the lower and upper bowl of a professional arena and as the sun peeks through the clouds, Lake Louise takes the cake as one of the coolest places to skate and play hockey on. From the stunning views and the infinite opportunities for a photo-op, Alberta is the host to one of the most extraordinary bodies of water that is available to be skated on once frozen over. For anyone who knows hockey, plays hockey, or simply just follows hockey, this should be at the top of your list as it could arguably be one of the most captivating and incredible skates of your life - surrounded by nature, a limitless supply of fresh air, and a near immaculate rink to skate on.
Honorable Mention - EA Sports NHL 19 Ones Rinks
Home to people from around the world, EA Sports NHL 19's "Ones" rink was designed specifically to have competitive hockey year-round. This outdoor rink is unique - there's literally always people here and they're always looking for a couple other players to play a little one-on-one-on-one hockey. What's rarer is that there's an endless amount of goaltenders that are always ready to suit up and play in-net. It's the ultimate outdoor rink with a constant stream of onlookers, fans, and other players to test your skill in. If you're looking for a place to hone your stick-handling, goal scoring, and checking, this rink is for you. It's located in a virtual abyss and admission is $23.97, but if you catch someone leaving in the parking lot, you might be able to snag their pre-owned pass for a smooth $19.99. Dress code is strict - limited only to NHL-licensed or Adidas-licensed apparel. All that aside, the aesthetic is awe-inspiring - trees are seemingly identical in what seems like an enchanted forest coded to perfection and if you listen carefully, you can hear the competitive players cursing, yelling, and saying condescending words out on the ice. It truly is a breeding ground for creating ruthless, merciless, and cutthroat hockey player that all want to be crowned as the best player out there.