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Segways in the snow

Swapping feet for wheels puts
the fun into social distancing

The holiday season tour took people around the Legislature, grounds to see the Christmas lights.  (River Valley Adventure Co.)

By Haley Grinder

RIVER VALLEY ADVENTURE Co. continues to host their annual river valley Segway PT Tours – despite the global pandemic. With provincially regulated social-distancing measures still in effect, riding a Segway is a safe way to get outdoors and socialize with your immediate cohort.

Chris Szydlowski, one of River Valley’s owners, says that, in past years, revenue had been split between tourists and locals. With the pandemic prohibiting non-essential travel, he says he’s seeing a decrease in business. This may change, as more Edmontonians are working from home, with more flexible hours.

“It’s safe, it’s fun and it’s a great way to see the jewel of our city – the river valley,” says Szydlowski. “You’ll forget you’re even in the city.”

In true Edmonton fashion, the inspiration came from needing stuff to do in the winter. Szydlowski and his wife founded the company in 2007, headquartered in West Edmonton Mall. They took the Segway out into the parking lot and found that it worked well on snow and ice, and in cold temperatures. Once they equipped the Segways with winter tires from Germany, they were open for business, eventually expanding to Calgary in 2014, as well

In 2010, they moved to their current location, directly behind the Edmonton Convention Centre. The company also runs the Urban Green Cafe – which boasts a riverfront patio, perfect for grabbing a warm beverage after a brisk ride.

‘It’s safe, it’s fun and it’s a great way to see
the jewel of our city – the river valley’

If you’ve never set foot on the two-wheeled contraption, don’t fret. Courses are available for those at all skill levels. The beginner clinics start slow, with an instructor guiding you through an obstacle course that looks out at the North Saskatchewan river.

Chloe Skerlak, a self-proclaimed tour guide extraordinaire, started working for River Valley five years ago, and says she loves seeing how Segway riding overcomes the pandemic’s limitations.

“A lot of people who are joining us during this time tell me that this is one of the few opportunities they’ve had to enjoy themselves,” she says. “With many things closed during the pandemic, we’re glad our Segway tours are offering a chance for people to get outside and have fun.”

Naomi Nadeau, a federal government worker, tried out a Segway for the first time in 2018. She says riding isn’t as hard as you might imagine, and that she felt comfortable after about 10 minutes.

“The most challenging was finding my balance while on the Segway. Chloe was amazing at helping me and building confidence. It was rewarding to see how quickly I picked it up.”

People laugh as they try out the Segways outside in Edmonton (River Valley Adventure Co.)

The tour guides have picked up a surprising amount of knowledge about Edmonton’s roots and, along the ride, there are multiple stops dedicated to taking in the city’s history.

The pandemic has limited tour groups to a maximum of six people, although Skerlak says there is a positive to this.

“When we have people all from different groups on one tour, it can be challenging to find a pace that works for everyone. However, since COVID, we don’t have tours that large, so it’s really easy to tailor the experience to the riders.”

The Segways are sanitized after each use and distancing measures are taken during instruction.

The course travels along the river: beneath the Low Level Bridge, over the Walter Dale Bridge, through Queen Elizabeth Park, and past Pioneers Cabin, looping back to the start. The river valley paths are well maintained, ensuring the ride is safe.

Segway riding is dependent on the notoriously unreliable Edmonton weather. Operations cease once temperatures drop below -15C with wind chill.  River Valley Adventures closed on Jan. 23, due to the cold snap, and will reopen once weather allows, so people can get back to enjoying the outdoors – at a distance.

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