When the canals freeze over —or when a tennis court is flooded with water— the Dutch don their skates and make for the ice. I’ve seen many news articles with the community shovelling snow to make way for a clear and bump-free skating area. Another thing they love about all the frozen canals is a rare event called Elfstedentocht (Eleven Cities Tour): Between the 11 northern cities, a speed skating competition is formed when all of the ice freezes and stays frozen —along the 200km route— for a specific amount of time and the thickness is 15 cm. Water pumps along the canals are switched off so the water stays put and can freeze. This takes place in a northern part of the Netherlands called Friesland. Locals, skaters, spectators and the media anxiously await daily updates of the ice progress. You see, this competition is rare because it happens so infrequently; in fact, the last one was held in 1997! There have only been 15 in the last century. So, you can see why the Dutch are so excited!! For the last few days the news is all about the Elfstedentocht. “Hope for the ice.” “Chances receding.” “Will the weather hold?” The whole country was most likely involved in the collective sigh heard this morning when the news turned for the worse, but it is not the end of the highly-anticipated competition: The ice is now 8-15 cm thick with a thaw predicted for the weekend, BUT another freeze to follow next week, so all is not over yet for the 16,000 speed- and leisure-skaters. The funniest thing I have seen though, is another event within the Elfstedentocht callen klunen (walking on skates). Where the skaters must walk on their skates via carpeted pathways to get between the jogs of ice. Some of the skaters make it look easy…running along the carpet to get to the next patch of ice sans hand-holds or anything to help keep you upright. Not everyone can make this look graceful though. Klunen in Bolsward Elfstedentocht 1985
Update: The skate extravaganza did not run again this year. The weather was too mild.