Instead of being cooped up inside binge-watching “Jeopardy” on Netflix, Southwestern Pennsylvanians could be making the most of the winter season … by visiting Buffalo, New York.
Fall in love with the season of crisp air, white fluffy snowfalls and ice-side hot chocolate in the “Queen City.” That’s what Buffalo native Lisa Florczak did when she returned to her hometown after spending years in other cities like Boston and Pittsburgh.
“My mantra has always been, ‘It’s time to stop enduring the winter – it’s time to start embracing it,’” she says. “Do the stuff you like and get outside.”
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said in a statement that tourism boosted the Buffalo-Niagara economy by about $2 billion in 2018, “as travelers from across the country and around the world find out how much there is to do, see and experience in Buffalo.”
The Washington Post published an article in December titled “You’re Going Where? Buffalo,” which discussed Buffalo as a great travel destination, even in wintry weather. Brown says that he “couldn’t agree more.”
“Buffalo is a fantastic winter destination,” he says. “Visitors can enjoy skating, ice biking and even ice bumper cars at Canalside, curling at Riverworks, or take a snowy walk through our Olmsted-designed parks, or along trails in the Tifft Farm Nature Preserve, or along our Inner and Outer Harbors.”
Ice biking was Florczak’s idea. After moving back to Buffalo, Florczak and her husband, Peter, came up with a recreational activity to promote the revitalization at the city’s Erie Canal Harbor – water bikes. Florczak says the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. had worked to build a boardwalk at Canalside, but there wasn’t much to do there.
In 2013, she and her husband started renting out water bikes, which gave “people who don’t own a boat access to the water.”
The following year the corporation started building Ice at Canalside, a 32,000-square-foot skating rink, built to mirror the terminus of the Erie Canal. It sits where the old Memorial Auditorium once was, where the Buffalo Sabres used to play.
The ice rink was “long anticipated by the public and by people who thought Buffalo was never going to turn around,” Florczak says.
They jumped on yet another opportunity. “We thought, if you can bike on water, why can’t you bike on ice?”
She took a bike off a rack at Walmart and asked an engineer to “chop up this bike, do what you need to do, and come up with a design for the ice bikes.” She got to be the one to test them out.
“It feels like a regular bike in the sense that it’s easy to move,” Florczak says. “It will not stop on a dime because you’re on ice, and it will not turn like a regular bike because you’re using an ice skate-like blade to make a turn.”
The ice bike, which balances on its own, has become a perfect option for people who do not ski, skate or sled. They also coincide well with skaters, who share ice space at Canalside.
“It really goes across a lot of demographics,” Florczak says.
Since the opening of the rink in 2014, the ice bikes have taken off, Florczak says, and the Ice at Canalside has become a very popular place for winter activities. The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. has brought in curling, pond hockey and broom ball tournaments. This year, people can also rent ice bumper cars.
There are plenty of other locations for outdoor activities, like sledding and snowshoeing, in the Buffalo region. Chestnut Ridge, about 30 minutes from the city, has tobogganing, and Holiday Valley and Kissing Bridge are popular ski resorts only an hour from Buffalo.
If people really want to experience a winter Narnia, a visit to Niagara Falls in the winter is as close as one can get. There’s Buffalo cold, and then there’s “standing in the mist at the brink of Niagara Falls on a zero-degree day” cold.
Brian Hayden, communications manager for Visit Buffalo Niagara, says the wintry falls are a “must-see day trip.”
“The mist freezes on the nearby trees and creates a winter wonderland,” he says.
For warmer winter beauty, visitors can enjoy the Lumagination light show that runs through January and February at the Buffalo Botanical Gardens. There are also multiple shopping districts in Buffalo, for more indoor activity.
“For those who prefer to shop and stroll, our Elmwood Village and Hertel Avenue shopping districts, as well as the West Side Bazaar, Market Arcade and Broadway Market, offer a diverse mix of home-grown retail shops,” Brown says. “Our year-round portfolio of world-class architecture, museums, the Michigan Avenue African American Heritage Corridor, theaters, and restaurants, along with our fast-growing menu of craft breweries and distilleries, guarantees we have something that will engage every visitor.”
Buffalo also has an amazing culinary portfolio, for all the Yinzer foodies looking to branch out from coleslaw and pirogies. While Buffalo is most famous for its chicken wings – which will never be served with ranch dressing – its pizza is also one of a kind. It’s also home to the Beef-on-Weck, a roast beef sandwich on a roll topped with salt and caraway seeds. Sponge candy and Loganberry shakes make for sweet desserts that can only be found in the Western New York region.
“I’d also argue that much of our heartier local fare tastes better on a cold winter day, too,” Hayden says.