To many of us in the UK, while we may look longingly at the exploits of Torvill and Dean and dream of being creatures of such elegance and grace, the word “ice-skating” probably conjures visions of families hand-in-hand endlessly circling the local rink, periodically picking themselves up painfully from the ice before stumbling onward.
In Sweden, it is a very different story: welcome to the world of tour skating (otherwise known as trip skating, Nordic skating, or long-distance skating). Imagine yourself gliding through a silent winter world of natural ice, traversing frozen lakes and sea, experiencing a part of the natural world you never thought possible.
The Swedish winter freeze usually begins around November, with many small lakes freezing over. While cold weather is good, snow is bad and can make lakes unsuitable for skating – a period of sustained cold weather lays good ice foundations for the season to come. Next the larger lakes freeze, often followed by parts of the Baltic archipelago. While the major water routes are kept open by the passage of the passenger boats, once the freeze comes those who live in the archipelago year round will usually need to resort to snow scooters to get around, although you may occasionally see a car or two driving across the ice!
Once conditions are right, the skating begins, with 60-80km being a normal distance for a day tour. Some more experienced skaters can cover 150km a day or more.
Tour skates are very different from rink skates, with a blade about 50cm long. Bindings attach them to special boots (rather like hiking boots) or cross-country boots and the heel is often free, like cross-country skis. Poles may also be used to aid propulsion and add stability. As skaters may find themselves far from home and a long way from land, as a tour skater you will also need specialist safety equipment, including:
– ice claws in case it is necessary to haul yourself out of holes in the ice
– an ice pike to test the thickness of the ice
– a throwing line to hold on to as you are pulled from the water
– a rucksack to carry your supplies and a dry set of clothes and to act as a buoyancy aid
– helmet, knee and elbow pads to protect you from falls
Tour skating is an exhilarating, unique and hugely enjoyable experience, but should always be undertaken with an experienced guide with a good knowledge of natural ice.
Tour skating is accessible to everyone, but by some it is taken very seriously indeed. Each year the Vikingarännet race takes place on the Mälaren, an old Viking route rich in history, between Uppsala and Stockholm. This year’s 80km (about 50 mile) race was won by Johan Håmås, a 29 year-old from Stockholm, in just 2 hours 40 minutes.
Long-distance skating is a wonderful way to explore Sweden in the winter. You don’t need to have any prior skating experience, and in fact the technique required has more in common with cross-country skiing than rink skating. Watch some of our clients in action this winter on the lakes around Trosa.
The Nature Travels Team
Nature Travels offers 4-day Ice Skating on Natural Ice experiences easily accessible from Stockholm. For more information please see Ice Skating on Natural Ice.