No. 20: Skating (on natural ice)

You may hear Dutch people grumbling about how cold it is, how the snow is slowing down trains, how flights are not taking off from Schiphol, how long it took them to get to work and how it makes for treacherous biking - but secretly they like love it.

Yes we can!

They love the cold temperatures, the frosty wind, the snow capped canal houses and the gleaming sunshine. They love the excitement it brings; the excitement it adds to an otherwise gray and dreary endless dutch winter.

Couple the snow, the sun and the cold with the anticipation of….wait for it… skating on natural ice, and collectively you have almost 16 million people on the brink of a national orgasm. Dutch people love to skate but more importantly they love the elusiveness of skating on natural ice in the great outdoors.

Of course being able to skate outdoors for a few days every few years is one thing, but add the Elfstedentocht to the mix and you have an entire country in the grips of  joyful anticipation.

On your marks, get set, GO!!!

Haven’t heard of the Elfstedentocht yet? Why, you must be walking around with your hands firmly on your ears this week then! Will it or won’t it happen?! Oh my! Oh my!!! The Eleven Cities Tour, the Dutch’s national pride, is an ice-skating marathon held in Friesland with participants joyfully skating through 11 Dutch towns in a mere 200 kilometers of natural ice paths. In the past 20 years, the Elfstedentocht has happened all of … once (in 1997)! Therefore the thought of it possibly happening again this year is pretty darn freakin’ exciting to those ice-loving Dutch people!

The odds each year are pretty bad, but that doesn’t stop Dutch people from wishing and hoping, and more importantly – practicing! Go to any rink or body of slightly frozen water in the middle of a cold Dutch winter and you will see scores of Orangies sharpening their blades and practicing their moves in hopes of the great 11 city race!

Coming from a country that has Siberia-esque winters, outdoor activities (including skating on endless kilometers of outdoor ice) are not special and certainly nothing to write home about! However, I must say that a palpable vibe of happiness and excitement has swept the city. One which I am quite happy to see stay for a while.

A press conference was held yesterday to address the rumours that the big race was indeed going to happen. Nothing has been confirmed, as of yet, but the Dutch wait with high hopes and bated breath…

UPDATE: What a difference a day makes!  Yesterday, 16 million Dutch were on the brink of a national orgasm. Now they’re just plain old sad. No Elfstedentocht 2012 :(

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  1. I am one off the Dutchies who is following this amazing site. I just want to say that it is not true that everyone loves it. I hate the cold and I really don’t care if there is coming a elfstedentocht!

      • Well, it annoyes the shit out of me too when, on those scarce days it’s really cold, noone can shut up about whether the ice will be strong enough. Reading this did make me really excited, though.

  2. The article is incorrect: “In the past 20 years, the Elfstedentocht has happened all of … two times!”

    The race has only happened once during the past 20 years. Only in 1997. The time before that was 1986, which is already 26 years ago.

      • there was also an unofficial one once, in a year it didn’t get organised but some people skated it anyway. That was in the season of 95-96, and the “genootschap us eigen houtsje” later organised an event for them later.

  3. I’ve lived in Leeuwarden, the starting point and finish of the Elfstedentocht. I was there the last time, in 1997. It was awesome, but I didn’t quite fathom the fact that I was witnessing a historic event. I’d love to go back again to see it all again with the same good friend as in 1997 ;-)

  4. I just got back from skating on a lake and then saw this post :p

    I did feel very dutch today, as I cycled there, skated, and even ate a piece of cheese.

  5. In the past 30 years, the Elfstedentocht has happened all of … three times: 1997, 1985 and 1986.

  6. I know this! My badass grandmother competed in the 1940s, when she was a hardcore athlete. She said that the Prince of Wales also competed.

    • Yep, people all over the world come to compete. There’re limited places and there’s a for-members-only-lottery that will decide who can compete/do the race. Our prince of Orange did the race too when he was young – incognito, under the name of W A van Buren in 1986.

  7. I agree the Dutch are going mad for it. The housemaster on campus has even turned our football pitch into an ice skating rink. Hence all the Dutch have gone home and brought skates galore with them and they are all very excited, though I am not so taken by the Dutch want for speed in skating, when I think skating I think figure skating and when I skate we just play games and push people over :)
    Whatsmore I am taking a class called “Discovering the Dutch” and the teacher had to inform us all of the elfstedentocht and told us we must go see it. She was very enthusiastic so if it goes ahead I hope to be there for this very Dutch tradition!

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  9. I am dutch and I dislike skating! They can have it in Holland and we will take the mild weather in Canada!

  10. “…country that has Siberia-esque winters”. We have “Siberia-esque winters” if we include Eurasia. I now live in this country with supposedly “Siberia-esque winters”, but it’s bloody 18 deg. Celsius and I can’t go skating, and this year not even snowboarding. Even if I would move north I’m sure those “Siberia-esque” people would not be able to keep up with my “rarely” trained winter skills, as their notion of “outdoor activity” is often limited to driving to work in their SUV. Sure they ski, but you can’t possibly call that activity at the level it’s being performed at.

  11. elfstedentocht 2012 with 15.287 followers and 249 tweets since. See this one, every hour some tweets!

  12. I don’t ‘secretly’ love the cold, I love it out in the open! If there’s snow, I’ll build a snowman and if there’s ice, I’ll skate!

    And, as mentionend above I feel very Dutch doing so. But it’s one of the times I really love Holland and living in the Netherlands :) And I can get really pissed off at all the people complaining about the cold. It’s awesome. Much better than the rain we usually have to deal with..

  13. Oh my!
    Before the Frysian folks whack you around the ears with their skates please acknowledge this correction: it is NOT “skating through 11 Dutch towns” but “skating through 11 FRYSIAN towns”.
    It’a all about national pride, you know!

    • How can it be national pride when Friesland isn’t a country? National pride would still say “Dutch towns”.

      • DAAN ! ! ! HUSH ! ! !
        You don’t get it, do you? ;-)
        You and I know that Fryslân isn’t a country, but please don’t tell that to the Friezen!

  14. I was living in Groningen both in 1985 AND 1986, having an aunt living in Frentsjer, But I would be absolutely NOT be persuaded to go stay with her to stand out in the freezing cold watching a bunch of ice-crazy fanatics either whizzz by, nor kluun by or strompel by. I watched those 2 races very cozily in a comfy blanket in front of the tv, with the start taking place like at 4 a.m. (I might remember the time wrong but it felt like a little after midnight).
    Now so many years later I still get kriebels, and I wish I was more daring 9and less lazy) in those years!

  15. “whizzz by, nor kluun by or strompel by”, and “I still get the kriebels” hahahaha!

  16. Love your articles. Hate winter and people jabbering about the “elfstedentocht” though. The only place I allow some ice is in my fridge.
    It is on national news every day, right after the updates in Syria! Bunch of idiotic Frisian people tripping about the thickness of the ice… I couldn’t care less.
    O and we’re calling it ‘horrorwinter’! Because it’s cold, it snowed a little and it’s freezing for about a week. That’s really weird for this season I guess ;)

    • I guess it was because they predicted a true “horrorwinter ” – temperatures of -20, lots of snow and stuff – and then we got this soft thing. Now it’s finally getting cold they’re calling it horrorwinter againg because of the forecasts.

    • the remark horror winter was thre before it even froze because some idiot weatherman predicted a horrorwinter wich will have prolonged periods of extreme cold with temperatures under -23 in the day time! well at first that didnt seem to happen, remember those cosy +12 temps a fes weeks back, so people started to ironicly calling it a horrorwinter. ;D

  17. @Thijzzz :
    I was in a hurry, I KNOW there doesn’t excist an english word for ‘klunen’ and had to hurry so I didn’t bother looking up ‘strompelen’ (stumble, totter, hobble, limp, dodder) and ‘kriebels’ (itching).

    ‘Klunen’ is a Frysian loanword that means ‘walking on skates’. This is done at those places on the route where the ice is too thin making it way too dangerous for 16.000 people to go there.

    • @Lynne: I know! (I’m Dutch and lived in Fryslan for a long time. That mix of Dutch and English was hilarious ;-)

      • LOL. We call it Dunglish.
        Too bad I never learned more Fries than : beadwieger!
        But I learned this in Grunnings: quiet night! (‘k wait nait)

      • Beadwieger? Beats me! Kwait nait and “goud mien jong” is also nice. Groningen has a funny diale ct, but they’re all around good people.

  18. Don’t forget our own prince Willem-Alexander who participated in 1986 under the name of W.A. van Buren.

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  20. My girlfriend and some of her friends have gone crazy for skating in the last week. On the other hand, the temperatures were so cold, my bike refused to function and I ended up spending most of last week in bed with a fever, which I possibly got from biking to work in -11c. Wait until the summer when it’s 28c, and I’ll be enjoying myself with friends in the park, whilst my girlfriend stays at home after getting feverish from the heat.

  21. I am Dutch. but I really need sun … I hate winter :(
    I dont enjoy ice and snow at all.
    if i had the option, i would migrate to a tropical country right away…

  22. I love this site!!!

    By the way you should have an article about the Den Haag of in Rotterdam. They are even funnier I think.

  23. They say you have to be Dutch to understand it, I was also surprised to see how much passion they put into it and how news is overwhelmed with information about how thick is the ice and how all people come together and help to take the snow away. Amazing!

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  25. I think this article misses this awesome video about ice-skating on the canals this last February…

  26. The cultural origin of skating in the lowlands might be as dutch as ‘de Elfstedentocht’ is and might be background on why ‘they’ like it…

    It started out as a way for Dutch resistance, during the eighty-year war against the Spanish, to fight back. During winters is was a great advantage and even when the Spanish acquired skates of their own they were unable to use then in battle (for lack of skill in skating).
    Following that period (late 1500) all the catholic events (like carnival) made place for a sober protestant existence. When, in winters, the lakes and canals froze up and people got on it, they figured; ice is no-ones land or property. Government nor church had anything to say while on ice. Suddenly there was no difference between someone’s social status. A lot of relationships started on the ice (and consumed in between reed). There was gambling for skating-races and binge drinking on the ice, even on a sunday! ;-) I even heard a historian talk about prostitution on ice, which I’m not totally sure about if it’s true. Needless to say the priests tried to act against this, and, needless to say as well, this was without chance.

    Even later on in (roughly) 1950-1970 during the ‘verzuiling’ (compartmentalization between catholics and protestants) there were no protestant or catholic clubs in skating. Even if a town had two skating-clubs, both had an place to skate and were open for both beliefs. This in contrast with other sports/activities. So even in modern days skating on natural ice is a ‘joyful liberation’ for the Dutch.

    I’ve relied on these sources; (I’m sorry they are in Dutch though)

  27. Nature ice is great.
    I love it and have skated the 11Stedentocht twice. (’86/ ’97). Dutch are traditionally strong in longtrack speedskating but to many foreigners it’s as exciting as seeing the grass grow. Or to watch paint dry. Luckily the Dutch are now also more and more dicovering shorttrack speedskating. Man, I love that even more!

  28. Pingback: NewLink: No. 20: Skating (on natural ice) | Stuff Dutch People Like « Leonieke Net

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  30. Elfstedentocht is a Dutch culture highlight. Each time it does happen, it is brought. With a different Fryslân sentence. You have noticed the anticipation but see what happens when it really takes place. The Dutch will immediatly clear their agendas and take that day of. It falls nothing short of public imposed public holday. People will call in sick if they are not allowed to take that day off. In schools they either give the kids the day off or make a special day for it while tv or reports are brought in regularly. People riding the course are celebrated at work afterwards. The biggest acheivement our New King has that earns him national respect is completing the course. The winner of the course is considered a national hero and celebrated as such, including being bestowed with thehighest royal honer. There is no money involved in the course itself, only honor. This course is not about money, it is about our national pride, perseverence. Many have died attempting to complete the course. And most of all, people participating are only interested in completing and getting. As early through the finish as possible. This is authentic sports thats why we love it. The eevent surpasses queensday, and even tops soccer world championsships.

    • “public imposed public holiday.”
      Yeah, that’s exactly what it is! I love the way you put it.

  31. Just a little update on Dutchies and skating… Seen the Sotshi Olympics ? We got a recordd ( well record for us anyhow ) 24 medals… All in speedskating, 23 longtrack & 1 shorttrack , 4 sweeps gold, solver and bronze… :-D