By Steve Hubrecht

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Mid last-week, Bloomberg News published a story about how the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa will not open this winter for the first time in half a century. A few days later national media across Canada featured similar stories. Those reports created a stir here in the Columbia Valley.

That’s because the news stories not only pointed out that it’s the first time since the Rideau Skateway was created more than 50 years ago that it will not be skate-able (the culprit is a climate change-induced warm winter in the capital), but also referred to the Rideau as the world’s longest ice skating rink.

There followed a small flurry of queries and comments to the Pioneer, to the effect of: ‘Wait a minute, doesn’t that record belong to the Lake Windermere Whiteway, right here in the Columbia Valley?’

As it turns out, not quite that record. It all comes down to a matter of semantics on one hand, and on the other hand, a matter of six inches in a few spots.

The Pioneer reached out to the Guinness World Records, which promptly responded. Turns out an ice skating rink and ice skating trail are not one and the same.

“I can confirm that the Lake Windermere Whiteway currently holds the Guinness World Records title for the longest ice skating trail. The Rideau Canal Skateway currently holds the Guinness World Records title for the longest naturally frozen ice rink,”  explained Guinness World Records Americas public relations executive, Kylie Galloway. “For the purposes of these record titles, based on maintenance, size and government designation, we qualify ice skating trails as different than ice rinks.”

Official record text from Guinness World Record notes that the Lake Windermere Whiteway measures 29.98 km (18.63 miles), while the Rideau Canal Skateway is is 7.8 km (4.8 miles) long, with a total maintained surface area of 165, 621 square metres (or 1.782 million square fee). That means the Rideau skateway is equal to 90 Olympic size skating rinks.

What’s the difference between an ice skating trail and an ice skating rink? Width, dear reader, width.

And, if the Whiteway had been just a few inches wider, at a few crucial corners when official measuring for the world record took place back in February 2014, then it would hold the record both for ice skating trail AND for ice skating rink. That’s certainly what the local residents who organized the push for the record were gunning for.

“We were going for it (the longest rink record), and we were just inches shy at a few points,” said former Invermere councillor, Justin Atterbury, who was heavily involved with the Whiteway world record efforts. “From what I recall, it (the Whiteway) had to be a minimum of six metres wide the whole way. And there were two or three corners were it was about six inches less than that…It seemed a bit ridiculous, but that’s what the rules were.”

Atterbury explained those pushing for the record were at first very disappointed, if not outright devastated, given that they’d been chasing the record for a few winters, and doing so was a tremendous effort. But those feelings were alleviated when they learned the Whiteway qualified for a separate record (longest ice skating trail, rather than longest ice skating rink).

“It is something that could be done again (to try to take the rink record from the Rideau), but it takes a lot of work, and the Whiteway does already have the ice skating trail record,” noted Atterbury.

Invermere council members didn’t hear quite a much about the Whiteway-Rideau confusion as did the Pioneer. Neither Invermere mayor, Al Miller, nor Invermere councillor, Kayja Becker (who had been acting mayor for a time recently, while Miller was on vacation) had any comments directly stemming from the news stories, although Miller has had some such inquiries in the past. Both, however, pointed to another key difference between the Rideau and the Whiteway.

“Perhaps most importantly, we are open this winter,” said Becker.

“Let’s put it this way: we have somewhere to skate this winter. Ottawa does not. So for that, I guess, Ottawa needs to keep looking our way,” echoed Miller.