Wind and Ice

A look at the sport of iceboating

Publication YearIssue Date 

“I feel the need... the need for speed!”

–Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, Top Gun

Twenty minutes north-west of Calgary lies a reservoir cold, windy and frozen enough for iceboating, Scandinavia’s craziest export.

Every weekend of the winter, displaced sailing junkies from the Calgary area, and sometimes around the world, gather outside the lone atco trailer at the end of Ghost Reservoir’s gravel parking lot to shoot the breeze and wait for it to climb above 20 knots. Once the wind picks up, they don motorcycle helmets and snow suits and make their way onto the metre-thick ice to prepare their iceboats to rip around the lake like seadoos in the summer.

An iceboat is best described as a 10 foot coffin with a sail, a steering skate on the front and a plank crossways on the back with a skate on either side. Flimsy at best, these homemade, wind-propelled craft suspend the sailor six inches above the ice and carry them across the lake at upwards of 100 kilometres per hour, shaking out loose fillings and more often than not, the content of their bladders.

In recent years iceboating at Ghost Reservoir has seen a resurgence, as young Calgarians buy used boats off veterans, many of whom brought their love for the sport with them from Europe, built the boats themselves and sailed them with relaxed restraint. Some of the younger, more daring sailor’s boats are jury rigged, aging and sailed too hard, as the inevitable breakdowns will attest, but these ice-yachtsmen work through the week to prepare their crafts to get broken again the following weekend. It’s all part of the fun.

Whether it’s a leisurely sail or a bowel loosening scream across the lake that attracts them, the iceboaters of Ghost Reservoir enjoy one of Alberta’s most unique winter sports.