Winter in Calgary

Feb 3, 2013

Words and photos by Alex Hondas

Any skateboarder who has visited Alberta during the winter months, a solid seven months of the year, will be able to tell you how bad winter is here. Indoor spots are few and far between. However, if you are lucky enough to encounter one, it’s usually a matter of minutes before security is starting to hassle you. So once that’s out of the picture, where do you go?

Calgary is lucky enough to have an indoor church venue, like many other cities in the winter months that opens it’s doors for a few hours on Tuesday evening so people can skate.


Dustin Henry, Frontside Wallride. With how busy it usually is, it’s hard enough to just skate a ledge. Dustin managed to weave through a crowd and get up on the wall.

The downside to this option is that because it is the only accessible spot to skate in the winter months, there are nights where there are easily over a hundred people trying to skate a few obstacles in this church gym.  

There are always whispers of indoor ramps in Calgary, but like anywhere, you've got to be in the know to be invited. The three most well-known ramps in the city are Shane’s, The Wonder Emporium, and The Mental Block. I’ve been lucky enough to meet these ramp owners over the years and have been able to document what a usual session is like at these ramps.

The Wonder Emporium is run by a group of working artists that have studios on the main floor, and then a three-foot mini ramp with a nine foot vert wall located in the basement.

Drew Cook, Frontside Feeble over the hole.

Dan Kneeshaw, Fakie Thruster Roof Bash. Coming down that nine foot vert wall to a three foot quarter on the other side really requires you to absorb a lot of the speed you get coming off that wall.

The outside of the building looks like it would almost be an abandoned old office building from the 70’s. There is always music playing during the sessions. Whether someone is DJing upstairs, playing their iPod through the speakers downstairs, or if you’re lucky enough, sometimes skating while a live band plays 10 feet away from the ramp. We only had a DJ this night, but it was a treat nonetheless.

Jared Sych, Sweeper. Jared is one of the main W.E. guys, and he certainly has no problem keeping up with the younger guys at the session.

Sometimes for bigger sessions that have been planned in advance, people will be required to make a donation. Sometimes that’s money towards ramp repair and an expansion, or most recently, a coat to donate to the Coats for Kids organization.

Next on the list is The Mental Block, which is run by an OG Calgary local by the name of Dan Robinson. Looking on Instagram, there are around 200 photos with the hashtag #thementalblock. The current ramp is currently on it’s third different style, or as Rob Thorpe, another OG Calgary skater and filmer calls is, “The Mental Block version 2.1”. The ramp consists of three different heights of transition; the 3 foot mini section with a recycled plastic curb on one side for coping, the 4 foot bowl corner, and then the 5 foot extension that has the actual mental block (a piece of pool coping). The roof itself is 8 feet high, so things get a little tight in that bowl corner. As for the Mental Block extension, only the brave go for the coping on that. Recently Dan has implemented a rule of if you are coming for a session, you need to bring a donation for the food bank. Great to see these guys being thankful for what they have, but also helping out those less fortunate.

Dan Robinson, Stale Nosepick in the bowl corner. Having only four feet between the coping and ceiling, you really have to tuck here to avoid a head bash.

Last on the list, but certainly not least, is Shane’s ramp. Unlike The Mental Block or The Wonder Emporium, Shane’s has never really had a name. Shane’s was the first indoor ramp I had ever skated in Calgary, and also the first time I had ever skated pool coping in a mini ramp.

You can always expect plenty of beers, some shit-kicker country music, and plenty of laughs. Being relatively well known in the city, Shane certainly has some interesting stories about the ramp. These include the Circa team randomly showing up in a few vans and Peter Ramondetta knocking on the door and asking if he and the rest of the Circa team could skate. Also, the story of the time where Canadian skate legend Joe Buffalo came and blessed the ramp. The ramp itself is four feet tall with a vert wall that goes to the trusses in the roof, which is around ten feet.

Scott Balkwill, Shifty Crail Grab.

There is not a ton of flat bottom and the transition is very quick, so it’s definitely an adjustment to skate from your traditional ramp. At the end of every session, someone tosses their board into the ramp, and if you’re a regular you’ll know that it’s time for team skate. Between the major heckling, very questionable rebates and counted tricks, it makes for an awesome way to end a winter session on a good note.

Kevin Lowry, FS flip. Ending a night off with a very goofy game of skate, but a textbook frontside flip.

It pays to be nice to everyone you meet, because anyone could be housing a ramp in their garage or basement. You just never know. Thanks to Dan Robinson, The Wonder Emporium guys, Shane Duchek, and all the homies who regularly come out.


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