One of wintertime’s most enjoyable and iconic activities is ice skating. When the air gets chilly and the ground frosty in locations close to the Arctic Circle, lakes and rivers freeze over to reveal a solid, traversable path in nature that materialises only in winter. As we have a knack for adventure and – in the words of Robert Frost – going down the road less travelled by, tour skating is a fascinating mix of these two.
Also called Nordic skating, trip skating or wild skating, this winter sport has people skating over solid interconnecting lakes or rivers to experience the landscape from a unique perspective that is normally not accessible. The fabulous scenery that unfolds as you skate from across the centre of a massive body of water makes it all worth it, despite the subzero temperatures and the fact that you generally have to travel far up north to find these ice-capped lakes and canals.
Tour skating utilises different equipment to regular indoor ice skating. For instance, the skates’ blades have a longer length to facilitate stable skating over long distances. Unlike figure skates, they can be clipped on easily in seconds and can be used to skate over soft, slushy ice, and even stretches of ice with bumps.
Nordic skates are also much faster than figure skates and barely leave any tracks behind. The long, curved tips of their blades help to maintain your balance on the ice, much like traditional skis. Plus, you get far better ankle support too, and you can use poles to aid you on your way. This convenient edge means that even if you’re normally averse to ice skating in rinks due to fear of toppling over, you might take to tour skating much better. The gorgeous 360˚ views around you aren’t too shabby, either!
So if you’re enticed (no pun intended!) about having an outdoors holiday on ice, check out these destinations for the best tour skating offerings in the world.
Sweden is perhaps the most popular destination for tour skating, and its country of birth. The Swedish call it långfärdsskridskoåkning and it originated in the 1900s. From humble beginnings as a means to travel across previously unchartered routes and take shortcuts in the wild, tour skating could almost be said to have reached national sport levels in Sweden. Lakes and even seas start to freeze at around November and by January, the tour skating season is in full swing.
ICEguide offers a variety of packages for spending time treading the ice, organising adventures involving races and private and guided tours.
Tour skating in Finland is the majestic winter wonderland adventure you’d expect. Skating around the Finnish archipelago with its rugged coastline and endless nature parks offers an exhilarating experience for all – even babies in prams have been taken on this journey of sorts! The activity is deemed safe particularly when you’re in company, kitted out properly to the nines, and following in the footsteps of a guide.
Visit Finland has all the information you need to plan a remote Northern getaway on ice, and features tours of ‘all shapes and sizes’.
In the Netherlands they do toerschaatsen (tour skating) their own way, which is why there are some who consider Dutch tour skating as a distinct sport from Nordic skating. This is because the activity has engendered an entire culture. The proof: Elfstedentocht is like the Tour de France of outdoor skating in the wild, split into a speed skating competition and a leisure tour organised sporadically at the last minute if ice conditions are favourable.
Eleven Dutch cities’ frozen canals, lakes and rivers host the 200-kilometre race, and when it doesn’t take place, the Dutch are only consolable through an alternative bout of open-air skating in areas where it’s feasible.
Austria is probably the southernmost country where you’ll be able to enjoy whizzing across ice in the great outdoors. A mountainous location together with high altitude and high-pressure weather turn its Alpine lakes into a skating playground at the height of winter.
Multiple circuits lead to an arduous long-distance tour of hundreds of kilometres’ worth of blade running, yet the serene satisfaction you gain from such a setting is what it’s all about.
The main hub for Nordic skating in the US is the state of Vermont, closely followed by New Hampshire. Festivals focused on frozen lake activities are held every winter across these two states, including Winterfest in Squam Lake. Lake Sunapee is said to have the best conditions for the sport, consistently supplying sunny, cold days that bring the locals out to skate long distances on the natural ice.
The Occom Pond Party celebrates speed skating on natural ice and tons of other winter-based outdoor activities in a carnival atmosphere that engages the whole family.
A big deal is made out of snow and ice in Canada, and rightly so. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Rideau Canal connects Ottawa and Kingston in Ontario and stretches on for more than 200 kilometres. In winter, this canal becomes the site for thousands of skaters participating in the marvel of the icy wonders around.
You’ll find adults pushing their kids along in large, traditional sleighs, ice sculptures and snow sculpture gardens too, making it the perfect family day out.
Affectionately referred to as horizontal Alpinism by the Swedes who started this popular sport, tour skating remains a top thrill for people of all ages and backgrounds.
The important thing to remember is to stock up on gear before you hit the ice. Use a complete kit list for snowsports as a model, and layer accordingly. Safety equipment such as skating poles, ice claws and lifelines are a must too.