Winter Fun: Skating on the Open Ice

SkatingASTANA – While some dislike the fact that Astana sees some of the coldest winters in the world, many others take advantage of the capital’s cold weather. One way locals spend quality cold weather leisure time is skating on the Yessil River and on the Rowing Canal.

Every winter, thousands of locals flock to the Yessil River and the Rowing Canal to skate on the frozen ice. Is such an open sky rink better than one indoors? That is what The Astana Times tried to figure out right after the holiday season.

“Winter is no reason to stay at home,” Raen Zeker, a young entrepreneur from Astana said. “One can always dress up warmly and enjoy the winter fun.”

Zeker has been skating since childhood and it is hard for him to remember how he learned to skate. “I learned to skate long ago and it is difficult to remember whether it was hard or easy for me to learn. But nowadays, I try to go skating every now and then, at least three to five times a season,” he commented.

Skating outdoors in Astana is not always a good idea;the temperatures drops below -30 at times, skating should be avoided on these days. However, any other day with a negative temperature, is a good skating day, even ones around -15 degrees centigrade. What makes people go out?

“Being active has always put me in a good mood. Even falls on the ice (which are inevitable) are not going to spoil my time,” Zeker said. “We always go home in an excellent mood thinking about coming back the next weekend. There is nothing better than skating in the sun, or when the wind blows and helps us glide – it is priceless.”

It might be priceless, but how safe is skating on the river in the winter? Could the ice break? These questions certainly might be of importance to those who recently arrived in Astana; any local would answer: “Of course it’s safe!”

But not right after the first snow. Later, after the first freeze below -20C, it should be safe.

“Our winter can be very cold, the ice gets several metres thick, it is impossible for it to break,” Zeker reassured.

“Off-road vehicles can race on this thick ice, I have seen it myself. Actually, 15 centimetre thick ice is enough for that,” Igor Lee, a regular skater and ice fishing loversaid. “I have been skating since childhood, and it was not too hard to learn to skate, I used to roller blade quite often. Now, I go skating once every two weeks with my family; that is our tradition, sometimes, we go to Alau [indoor skating rink] when it is too cold and sometimes here to Yessil. Of course, if you want quality ice, Alau is better, it is indoors, they take good care of the ice, here it is good for learning, it is more fun and you have more room for falling,” advised Lee, smiling.

Lee recommended Alau Sports Complex and Kazakhstan Sports Palace on the Rowing Canal. “At Alau, entry for adults is 500 tenge (US$3.24) during the day and 1,000 tenge (US$6.47) after four p.m. Kids up to 12 years of age pay half of that; kids younger than five enter for free, rental [skates] are also 1,000 tenge (US$6.47), the same price as at the Yessil River (and on the Rowing Canal), but there are no entrance fees at Yessil or on the Canal. You can skate for free if you have your own skates so it is a bit crowded there,” he said.

Ice skating might be the next big sport for Kazakhs. So far, the world knows of young Kazakh skater Denis Ten, who is now preparing for the Sochi Olympics, which will probably be the biggest event in his life. The hockey world knows of the Astana based Barys team that is wreaking havoc this season. But with this continued tradition, the world will surely hear more names from Kazakhstan very soon.

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