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In Canada, you may have heard, children learn to ice skate as soon as they can walk.

But some Canadian kids skate before they can walk. Visit any rink in Vancouver, B.C., and you’ll see an infant being pushed around the ice in a stroller by a parent on blades. That’s how crazy our Northern neighbors are for skating.

What better winter-vacation spot for aspiring Apolo Ohnos and their families? Vancouver boasts at least a dozen public-skating rinks within a half-hour of downtown, several of them operating year-round. They’re plentiful, generally inexpensive and uncrowded. And some of them — thanks to Olympics-era remodels — are remarkably beautiful.

On a recent three-day trip, my family visited five rinks in the Vancouver area. And we stumbled across some other family-friendly activities along the way. Here are the highlights.

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Hillcrest Rink

Neighborhood: Riley Park, 15 minutes south of downtown by car.

In a nutshell: The rink is part of the newly opened Hillcrest Centre, which houses many city recreational programs, including fitness classes, racquet sports, music lessons and swimming.

Key feature: The warm, colorful Hillcrest lobby houses a coffee bar and cushy, casual seating. If members of your group are not skating, they can comfortably hang out and watch the action through floor-to-ceiling windows.

Olympic connection: Hillcrest Centre served as the curling venue for the 2010 Winter Olympics that were held in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.

Schedule: Hillcrest ice rink is open year-round. It currently hosts public-skate sessions on Tuesday and Thursday evenings; Friday afternoon and evening; Saturday and Sunday afternoons. (Schedules change on short notice, though, so call or check the website.)

Cost: Admission ranges from free (preschoolers) to $5.98 (adult). Families should inquire about family rates — $2.99 per person for one to two adults in the same household and all children aged 2-18. Skate rental $2.77. (Prices are in Canadian dollars which are almost par with the U.S. dollar.)

Nearby activities: Be sure to take a peek — if not a swim — at the attached Hillcrest Aquatic Centre. Indoor and outdoor pools, a splash area, diving board, slide, sauna and more should warm up the kids after a chilly skate.

Info: 4575 Clancy Loranger Way, Vancouver; 604-257-8680;

Neighborhood: Downtown Vancouver.

In a nutshell: This is a covered, outdoor, temporary venue on a public plaza — small and accessible, comparable to the pop-up rink at Seattle Center during Winterfest. The ice is a little gnarly, but you can’t beat the price: free.

Key feature: Location, location, location. Drop in for a quick skate here after a visit to the nearby Vancouver Art Gallery or Vancouver Public Library, or during a day of window-shopping along Robson Street.

Schedule: The Robson Square Ice Rink is open through the end of February, weather permitting. Hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Cost: Free. Skate rental $4.

Nearby activities: Of all the enticements on Robson Street, my family’s favorite was Café Crepe Express (1032 Robson St., Vancouver; 604-488-0045;, a restaurant with four locations in Vancouver. A long menu of sweet and savory crepes is just the beginning. Daily specials, good coffee and beer, hours that stretch from petit déjeuner to late-night dining — this quickly became a favorite place to duck out of the winter weather.

Rink info: 800 Robson St., Vancouver; 604-646-3554;

Richmond Olympic Oval

Neighborhood: Suburban Richmond, about a half-hour south of downtown Vancouver.

In a nutshell: A massive exercise palace on the banks of the Fraser River, the Oval houses two Olympic-sized ice rinks; badminton, volleyball and basketball courts; a climbing wall; an indoor-rowing facility; two five-lane running tracks and a 23,000-square-foot fitness center. In keeping with the deluxe nature of the facility, expect to pay more to skate here than at a Vancouver city rink.

Key feature: The building’s signature roof, made up of salvaged pine-beetle wood, is a marvel of reclamation and engineering. A scale model may be viewed in the lobby.

Olympic connection: The Oval was the site of long-track speedskating during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. (The short-track venue where Ohno glided to gold — the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver — does not host public-skating sessions, but is available for group rentals.)

Schedule: The rink is open year-round and public skate sessions are offered most Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays-Sundays. (Schedules vary, so call ahead.)

Cost: Drop-in skating ranges from $5 (children 6-12) to $16.50 (adults). Skate rentals are $3.

Nearby activities: The Oval’s impressive climbing wall is open for drop-ins most afternoons. A single, daily entry fee covers all activities inside the Oval.

Info: 6111 River Road, Richmond; 778-296-1400;

Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre

Neighborhood: University of British Columbia campus, 20 minutes southwest of downtown Vancouver.

In a nutshell: Three rinks are nestled into the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre, including a 7,500-seat arena that is home to the UBC Thunderbirds hockey team. Public skating takes place on all three rinks at various times.

Olympic connection: Some of the 2010 Olympic hockey games were held here, although not the men’s finals, in which Canada beat the U.S. for gold. That historic game took place at Canada Hockey Place downtown.

Schedule: The rink is open year-round and public sessions are offered most Saturday evenings, Sunday-Tuesday afternoons. (Schedule changes weekly, so check the website.)

Cost: $3.25 (12 and under) to $5.75 (adults).

Nearby activities: Don’t miss the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, with its amazing collection of First Nations artifacts — including 10 full-scale totem poles. It’s open Tuesday-Sunday in the winter;

Info: 6066 Thunderbird Blvd., Vancouver; 604-822-6121;

Kerrisdale Cyclone Taylor Arena

Neighborhood: Kerrisdale, about 15 minutes south of downtown Vancouver.

In a nutshell: If you want to see how and where ordinary Vancouverites skate, this is the rink to visit. Nothing fancy, but Kerrisdale Cyclone Taylor Arena draws a lively crowd of families, teens and young adults on a weekend night.

Schedule: Public-skating sessions Thursday-Sunday, plus low-cost sessions on Mondays and Tuesdays, September to March.

Cost: Admission ranges from free (preschoolers) to $5.36 (adults). Ask about family rates and half-price sessions. Skate rental $2.77.

Nearby activities: Kerrisdale has a bustling business district with many shops and restaurants stretching all directions from the crossroads of West 41st Avenue and West Boulevard.

Info: 5670 East Blvd., Vancouver; 604-257-8121;

Lynn Jacobson: 206-464-2714 or

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