''SKATING is a way of life up here,'' the native Quebecons said, as my sturdy Nissan S.U.V pulled up, posed to plow through the snowy roads of southern Quebec where I'd come simply to skate.

Other than the Winter Olympics, ice skating doesn't hat a lot of attention among winter sports. It's usually ''something for kids'' addition at a ski resort, ior an activity built around a city landmark, like the rink at Rockefeller Center in New York or the ice-sheet at Millennium Park in Chicago.

But as winter lover who once traveled to Winnipeg to skate that city's sculpture dotted frozen river in below-zero Fahrenheit temperatures, I was intrigued by the icy fount of adventurous possibilities in Quebec, Canada's largest province-

Where it's possible to escape the oval confines of what we normally think of as ice rinks and skate for long, sinuous stretches on frozen trails through forests and snowy landscapes.

Three freezing months at relatively low elevations has spawned a distinct winter culture. ''Winters are very long and cold in Quebec,'' said Robert McLeman, a professor of Geography and environmental studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.

It's hard to pin a number on skaters in Canada, but the government has found hockey participation is second only to golf in the country.

''There aren't that many things that are quintessentially Canadian, but skating is one of them,'' Mr. McLeman said.

Skating trails - alternatives to circling an ice oval and perfecting counter-clockwise turns - can be found across Canada. They embrace the landscape when little is growing but frost and hark back to the origins of skating as a means of travel.

In Quebec, many parks and villages host skating that take a variety of forms,  from ribbons plowed on rivers to forests that are flooded with to create skating mazes.

Having built my own front yard rink, I know these froaen skateways are not easily maintained. Forest paths involve cutting trails, building water barriers, flooding and freezing them, clearing fallen snow, into sheet-side banks and continually conditioning the ice as it slaloms between trees. Ice might be a natural state, but skating ice is a wonder of human dedication.

Several of these ice innovations are in Mauricie and Lanaudiere, two of the 17 administrative regions that make up Quebec province, roughly midway between Montreal and Quebec city.

Together they bill themselves as ''authentic Quebec'' home to the 16th-century French settlements and rivers that were the original highways used by First Nations travelers and, later, French Canadian fur traders known as voyageurs.

Logging and hydroelectric industries subsequently took advantage of the regions' natural resources, more recently reframed as tourist draws.

The honor and serving of the latest operational research on great travel and sport destinations, continues. The World Students Society thanks author Elaine Glusac.


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