‘How lucky am I’: Rural Minnesota Woman Lives for Skating Adventures

70-year-old Linda Korhonen-Brula has made it a goal to find 10 new remote skating destinations every year. 

Above: Linda Korhonen-Brula skates on Moose Lake outside Ely, Minnesota.

By Troy Schwindt

This story appeared in the May 2024 issue of SKATING magazine. Click here to purchase a subscription. 

Linda Korhonen-Brula lives by herself in Babbitt, Minnesota, a town with 1,400 residents, about 100 miles north of Duluth. It’s from there where her skating dreams come true. 

Linda poses with her son and daughter at Babbitt Arena. They are all wearing winter attire and knit hats. A young girl wearing a knit unicorn hat sits in the foreground.
Korhonen-Brula with daughter Kaija and son Matt at Babbitt Arena.

The 70-year-old, a recent widow, has spent the last 13 years — she retired as a public school speech pathologist in 2011 — traveling from Babbitt to groomed trails in the northern part of the U.S. and Canada, as well as to many outdoor rinks and some unique indoor facilities, simply to lace up her skates and glide in a winter wonderland.

A self-proclaimed lifelong “rink rat,” Korhonen-Brula’s bucket list each year is to find 10 new unique, oftentimes remote, destinations to skate. This past season, she started slowly but ended up at 14.  Her total now is around 150.

“I’ve always skated and just enjoyed when I would come upon a new rink,” she said. “So then I went on a mission to find rinks tucked away in the middle of nowhere. I ask a lot of questions, talk to local people, just find the ones that I like.”

Her experiences have been life-changing, she said, filled with joy and wonderment.

“Every time I skate, I say how lucky I am at this age [to do this],” she said. “The second thing I say is why aren’t more people doing this. What’s wrong with this picture here. Why am I 70 years old and I’m the only person skating. That’s not everywhere but that happens a lot. I’m lucky we have a beautiful arena in the small community that I live in and that our city has kept it up.”

Korhonen-Brula grew up in a family with modest means, but her parents made sure she had the chance to participate in all sports, something she’s immensely grateful about still today.

She passed her love of skating down to her two children, Kaija and Matt, and they have done the same with their children, who all play hockey.

Most of Korhonen-Brula’s adventures take place as part of her normal travels to youth hockey tournaments and vacations. Sometimes she’ll receive an alert on social media describing a spectacular destination to explore. Unfortunately, oftentimes by the time she makes plans to travel to the pristine ice, a big snowstorm may come in and prevent her getting to the destination.

“The window of opportunity is very small,” she said.

Linda poses for a picture with her four grandkids on the ice. The four grandkids are all wearing hockey gear with two wearing white USA jerseys and the other two wearing black jerseys with a large letter W on the front
Korhonen-Brula spends time on the ice in Babbitt with her four hockey-playing grandchildren Brielle, Airi, Eero and Graham.

But for all of those disappointments, there have been many, many memorable outings that she’s experienced by herself, with a friend or with her family.

“In 2013 we skated the Rideau Canal in Ottawa,” Korhonen-Brula said. “We were incredibly lucky, because there was a major snowstorm all over the U.S. and Canada and we were lucky to get there. Our skates never made it for the first day. With the Rideau, you never know if they are for sure going to be open, how long they are going to be open, what the conditions are going to be like. We happened to get ideal skating conditions while there.”

The Rideau Canal Skateway is the world’s largest skating rink. From roughly January to late February or March, people can skate any section of the 4.8 miles thanks to its universally accessible ramps and facilities.

She’s also skated at other spectacular venues such as the Red River Mutual Trail in Winnipeg, the Riverbend Skate Path in Warroad, Minnesota, the indoor oval in Milwaukee, the oval in Roseville, Minnesota, and Millenium Park in Chicago.

Another favorite pastime is lake skating in Northern Minnesota when the conditions are just right. That’s where she introduced Kaija to skating. There’s a photograph with her and 6-weeks-old Kaija in a cutter sled on a frozen lake that she cherishes.

Kaija has gone on to enjoy her life on the ice. She floods the backyard every year so the family can skate and her children can work on their hockey skills in Madison, Wisconsin. She also is a sentinel for the Rink Watch program in Canada, where they track outdoor skating rinks in the upper tier of the U.S. and Canada to see how climate change and weather affects the number of days people can skate, when rinks open and close. She appeared as a sentinel on a PBS special a few years ago.

“It’s been amazing and fun to watch how much she enjoys doing it,” Kaija said. “I think she can get a little stir crazy so she’s always exploring and keeping things fresh and new.”

Her son, Matt, meanwhile, is a youth hockey coach and is on the Waconia Youth Hockey board of directors.

“I always pinch myself and say how lucky I have been in my life to have had a career (school pathologist) where I could be gainfully employed, doing something I loved and living in the part of the country that I love because I love winter.”