One of world's longest skate trails transforms Canada's Winnipeg

Every winter, two rivers flowing through the Canadian city of Winnipeg freeze, and tens of thousands of people don their skates to enjoy what becomes one of the world's longest outdoor ice rinks.

The outdoor skating provides a break from the seasonal doldrums, with blistering cold temperatures that plunged in January to -40 degrees Celsius (-40 Fahrenheit).

The Red River Mutual Trail, dotted by warming huts created by architects from around the world, begins in the heart of the city's downtown area at the Forks, where the Red and Assiniboine rivers meet.

Once a gathering place for indigenous tribes, the Forks now boasts a market, restaurants and museums.

At its peak use in February, the skating trail stretches 8.45 kilometers (5.25 miles), surpassing the 7.8-kilometer Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa - a UNESCO world heritage site that has claimed to be the world's largest skating rink.

After the Mutual Trail opened for the 2018-2019 season, it teemed with people - on foot, on bicycles and on skates.

Some use it to get to and from work to avoid rush-hour road traffic - in the morning and evening.

It also becomes the cultural hub of the city, drawing people apt to stay indoors to binge watch movies outside for some exercise - and some fun in the unique and artsy outdoor warming huts.

The huts were created for a design competition that received more than 220 entries from some 60 countries. Of those, only about 15 are displayed on the ice.

This year's winners include interactive sculptures of snowmen, a hovering box labyrinth, and Huttie, an anthropomorphic hut inspired by the 1970s children's television series H.R. Pufnstuf.

Photos: AFP

Each year, a seasonal restaurant also sets up on the frozen river, serving gourmet meals to the few lucky diners who managed to snap up reservations months in advance.

Some 30 renowned chefs from around the world have rotated through its kitchen.

Western Canada's largest winter festival also spilled onto the ice.

The Festival du Voyageur, which celebrates local francophone culture and the pioneers who transported furs by canoe during the early fur trade days, is normally held in Winnipeg's historic Saint Boniface neighborhood.

But for its 50th anniversary this year, organizers built an ice bar on the river that has attracted thousands of visitors nightly.

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