Skating on natural ice is quite different from the ordinary skating
in a rink. In fact, long-distance skating with the (stiff enough)
ski boots, the ski bindings, the free heels, and the (long enough)
skiing poles is much better likened to skating skiing than to normal
skating. How one goes about it and the feeling is much closer to the
former than the latter.
A few words about some practicalities
The natural ice is regularly much rougher and the surface more
uneven than the smooth rink ice. Furthermore, there often is some
snow and frost on the natural ice. Since the skates are rather long
(typically between 45-60cm) they absorb much of the hits and the
vibrations which the ordinary skates would not. The roughness of the
ice, especially if there is some frozen snow, will cause friction
(and make the going even more skiing-like).
Compared to rink-skating there are several factors and even dangers
one has to observe on the natural ice and over the long distances,
especially if one skates at the sea.
- The same basic precautions apply as in any hiking out in the
open. In covering long distances on the sea ice one needs a map, a
compass, and the know-how about using them. There even is a real
possibility of a sudden, thick fog or a heavy snowfall which will
drastically drop the visibility and confuse the inexperienced. Even
in a good weather getting somewhat lost on the long, open distances
in the sea archipelago may lurk nearer than you may think.
- On the sea ice the wind conditions and directions can be a big
factor. One has to plan one's route sensibly and always be prepared
to know how get back even if the wind suddenly turns unfavorably and
picks up. On an open sea ice pushing against the wind can be really
hard work. Skating in winds beyond 10m/s requires both stamina and
- A galy wind also has a considerable chill factor even at benign
temperatures. The clothing must be wind-resistant enough to cover
this eventuality. For example, one needs a good, rimmed hood in
one's coat and insulated gloves in a gale. One of the many useful
special trick additions to the clothing and equipment under such
conditions is a skiing visor. If you take your clothing cues from
ski hiking in the leeway of the woods, you will not get it quite
right. The best cues are from skiing on the open, exposed hills of
- Especially at the sea, the thickness of the ice can vary
drastically. One needs to know where the dangerous currents lie and
how to detect them. For example, in the Vaasa archipelago there are
several dangerous spots in the straights and in front of some
- The quality of the surface of the sea ice can vary surprisingly
much over the terrain under some conditions. This means that if one
chooses another route back one never can be absolutely sure that the
route back will be skatable all the way.
- There always are small and sometimes big cracks around on the
surface of the natural ice. If one runs paralleled into a such a
crack, one can trip. If there is some loose snow on the ice, the
cracks can be covered by it. Therefore, I now always wear kneepads
when skating (missing from the equipment picture).
- There sometimes are patches of either loose or frozen snow on
the ice. In particular, if one skates with the wind, the speed can
be considerable. One has to be able to make quick decisions whether
to try to skate through the patches or to swerve around them. A
wrong estimate will cause an abrupt halt to the proceedings. The way
to go trough the small rough patches is running the skates
absolutely straight, one skate clearly in front of the other (I seem
usually to have the left one in front then).
- But most importantly, long-distance skating is an extraordinary
experience. A good weather, with good, gliding ice conditions, the
wide-open sea distances, and being able to go almost anywhere, will
give an exceptional sense of freedom. If you have never tried it,
you are in for a real treat, once you get it right.
Q: I have seen on some TV programs
presenting long-distance skating that many seem rather to use
ordinary hiking boots bound tightly to the skates and only one,
short, stiff pole instead of skating skiing boots and the long ski
poles. Why is that?
A: That observation is correct. There are those two differing
alternatives to choose from, although personally I unequivocally
prefer the skiing emulating version. The idea behind the ordinary
hiking boots indeed is in the idea hiking. If you alternate the
skating much with hiking over land, you'll need the hiking boots
since the skating skiing boots are not good at all for walking. They
are far too specialized for that, being stiff by construction and
slippery because of their narrow bottom groove system does not give
much purchase. I would say that the option of hiking boots is more
versatile for the general outdoors (maybe even for an overnight)
while using the skiing skating boots is for concentrating on the
best aspects of the actual skating.
The biggest technical difference between the two is that the hiking
boots are (usually) attached also at the heel while the skiing
skating boots have a free heel. (The skates in this option also tend
to have a somewhat broader blade.) The problem with the fixed heel
is that it is essentially clumsier. The going will both appear and
actually be more awkward and slower. Furthermore, the single stiff
pole is meant as a good precaution for testing treacherous ice. It
is not a useful aid for the going. The long double poles, on the
other hand, are for the pushing, just as in skiing. The going with
free heels and the skiing poles will be more naturally flowing and
Hi! I am keen on tour skating. I have been planning a trip to
Finland. Could you help me with my arrangements? Where in Finland
should I go for the skating and how to find good accommodation?
A: I am very pleased to hear that. I occasionally get these
questions. However, this is outside my purview. Please appreciate
that as a private person I can't take the time and responsibility to
act as a virtual travel guide. To find out about tourist information
you are best off using the common travel information channels. They
should not be overly difficult to find on the net or through a good
travel agency. I hope that this will work for you and that you'll
find such arrangements to come to Finland which are to your liking.
As for finding suitable tour skating venues in Finland, the same
Timo, do you know where I could buy good tour skates overseas at a
fair price? Or would you have used skates to sell yourself?
A: I am just a hobbyist interested in the actual tour skating, not
in trading. I simply can't take the time to get involved in finding
tour skates for other hobbyists. Try searching yourself for any good
Finnish sports store on the net. As for myself, I am not selling nor
buying skating material. Sorry.
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