If you love the outdoor exhilaration of cross-country or downhill skiing but find the Winter weather unattractive, perhaps it is time for you to consider in-line skating. This growing sport combines all of the health and exercise benefits of skiing or ice-skating with the added attractions of inexpensive equipment, fine Summer weather and cost-free, readily available local venues.

The increasing availability of paved skating trails leading through attractive park-like settings is one factor responsible for the rapid growth in the popularity of “blading”. Those of us in the Harbourfront area are particularly blessed with excellent facilities such as those on the Toronto Islands and the lakeside Martin Goodman Trail, in addition to routes leading up the Don Valley and through High Park.

Blading, like its Winter cousins, can constitute a high-intensity aerobic workout or it can be the basis for more sedate family activities such as picnics, dog-walking or even pushing a baby carriage. In either case there is something psychologically therapeutic for high-stress urban dwellers as they glide through vistas of morning mist over the lake or the diffuse tones of the setting sun on smooth safe trails surrounded by parks and woodlands.

While this sport can appeal to virtually all ages, there are certain safety requirements and skating courtesies that should be adhered to in order to ensure enjoyment of the pastime by all participants and the safety of other users of the local network of trails.

Foremost among the safety considerations is the recommended protective equipment necessary to guard against injury due to a fall. Properly equipped with a helmet, wrist guards and kneepads, a novice skater can enjoy the learning phase provide they take the time to build their skill level and abide by certain skating principles intended to reduce the probability of a fall. Once the novice skater is ready for the trail there are certain “rules of the road” that everyone must abide by in order to keep the sport enjoyable for participants of all skill levels.

Of primary importance is the need to always skate on the right side of the trail. Passing someone on the left side of the trail is only permitted when there is no oncoming traffic (skaters, walkers, joggers or bikers).

Those who drive will recognize this common-sense rule, but after nearly 10 years of recreational skating, I am amazed by the number of skaters and bikers who seem to feel that they can pull into oncoming traffic with impunity when they want to pass.

Such action can instigate a head-on collision that at combined skating speeds of 20 to 40 kilometers an hour can be disastrous. If such a collision is imminent, each skater should always swerve to the right, never the left, in order to avoid contact. Prior to overtaking others, it is an appreciated courtesy to announce your intention to pass. This reduces the possibility that your sudden arrival will startle unaware pedestrians and cause them to impact with you as they attempt to get out of your way. A clearly announced “passing on your left please”, loudly proclaimed, well in advance to those in front of you, is a wise precaution.

As you gain facility with the sport you will become aware of the limits dictated by the laws of physics upon a safe turning radius and braking distances at various speeds. While you are climbing the learning curve, you should be aware of certain trail conditions that can be perilous. These include moisture, automobile oil, gravel, leaves and twigs; all capable of reducing wheel contact with the skating surface and thus affecting skating control. Surface irregularities such as gaps or cracks, rail or streetcar tracks and sewer grates that can trap the skate wheels represent a hazard that can initiate a nasty fall. These obstacles should always be crossed by skating perpendicularly over them in order to avoid the total loss of control that results from getting skate wheels caught in an opening.

While skating on streets should be minimized, sometimes it is unavoidable. In such instances, you should attempt to use streets with dedicated bike and blading lanes. At all times, beware of stopped or parked cars from which an opening door may strike you as you pass. Cars turning right constitute a source of concern; especially those stopped at a light or stop sign. In cases where you are beside a car you may be unaware of its turn signals and the driver may similarly be ignorant of your presence.

With the exception of the braking process, the mechanism of blading is very similar to ice-skating and thus will be familiar to many Canadians. In-line skating can extend the aerobic career of runners and joggers who often eventually find that the bone jarring impacts and joint damage to knees and spine limit their ability to continue to participate in these sports. When you consider the cost-effectiveness, the emotional and health benefits and the local availability of excellent facilities for this sport, perhaps you will agree that in-line skating is a natural fit for active sporting residents in our urban waterfront community.