Oslo: Top 5 skating spots.
The Great Skate Escape!
“Respect the ice!”
Nordic skating, or tour skating, are the names given to recreational long-distance ice skating on natural ice, something that has become increasingly popular on frozen lakes or fjords. Out there it’s hair-raisingly spectacular to speed toward the open sea, but, if you don’t take into account the very nature of your playing surface, it’s also dangerous. So: respect the ice, never go alone, and remember your safety equipment.
The best thing about this sport is how absurdly disproportionate the feeling of speed is to the amount of effort put in. As Patrick Swayze once sang, “She’s like the wind through my dreams”. Picture yourself cruising towards the horizon, fresh air in your face, a light breeze whistling in your ears. Other than that: stillness, with just the landscape passing by. Doing this in the middle of the sea makes the experience even more celestial. It’s like a fantasy scripted by Moebius and Jodorowsky.
Skating suits all ages, shapes and skill levels. You can bring your kids or grandkids, your date or your friends, your in-laws or your co-workers. You can walk and talk while smoothly flying across the surface of the earth, or simply ruminate in silence. You don’t even have to work up a sweat to have fun. It’s like golf, except that you can picnic or barbecue on small islands in the fjord, and that doesn’t work on golf greens. Plus, you can be totally alone out there, covering 50 km a day, or even up to 100 km if you’re skilful and conditions are right. It’s a dream, but, if you don’t know what you’re doing, one that quickly can turn into a nightmare — on ice.
“There is no such thing as safe ice, only safe skating.”
Ice is treacherous stuff, and not just the highly stimulant drug or Mr Vanilla. It’s in constant motion, even if it’s thick like a brick: currents and thaws can make it vulnerable, causing it to crack and break, before suddenly you’re gone. If you’re skating alone, you’re more exposed, and — worst case scenario — if you’re totally reckless, you could drown. But if you follow the rules summarised in the mantra “There is no such thing as safe ice, only safe skating”, you should be fine. Just don’t go anywhere you’re not 100% certain it’s stable, and as with hiking, rope your party together if there’s room for doubt.
Per, the skater
Skating on fjords and lakes is fun, but it’s no joke. We asked Oslo-based photographer and tour-skate enthusiast Per Sollerman about the sport’s ‘Dos and Don’ts’. (Follow his spectacular Instagram photo-feed, ‘Nordicskate’).
- If you’re new to skating, never skate alone. In fact, never skate alone — period. If you lack knowledge about ice-conditions and ice safety — and people usually do — it’s best to join a course, such as those run by Oslo’s “Skiforeningens Turskøytegruppe”. Otherwise you could find someone experienced and tag along for your first skating endeavours.
- Regarding equipment, Per assures us that skating is probably one of the most affordable sports ever. You’ll pay a few thousand kroners (or a couple of hundred Euros) for good long-distance ice skates that attach to your hiking or skiing boots with standard ski bindings, a safety line, ice spikes and poles, as well as a dry bag for supplementary dry clothes (in case you’re heading out on really thin ice). Safety equipment is never an extravagant investment: with luck, you’ll have the gear for the rest of your life. One can also, of course, use ordinary hockey skates, but if you join a course, they’ll provide skates and safety equipment, making it probably the smartest way to check out whether you’re built for this sport, or if you even dare try it.
- One more thing: Respect the ice!
History of ice-skating
Ice-skating has its origins in the Nordic region. A study at University of Oxford suggests that the earliest ice-skating happened in southern Finland nearly 4,000 years ago. The original skates were merely sharpened, flattened bone strapped to the bottom of the foot. Skaters didn’t actually skate on the ice, but rather glided on top of it. True skating emerged when a steel blade with sharpened edges was invented by the Dutch in the 13th or 14th century. The construction of modern ice skates has stayed largely the same since then. (WIKIPIEDIA)
The fact that blades can be easily removed from boots is convenient. The activity often involves walking between lakes, or around sections not suitable for skating, and blades clip on and off in seconds. Nordic Skates glide much faster than conventional skates, since they glide on top of the ice, instead of digging in. These blades have long, curved tips just like skis, so they don’t trip you up on rough ice the way hockey and figure skates might, and your weight is distributed evenly on a longer blade, providing more stability. You can skate through a few inches of snow, or on bumpier ice, without stumbling the way hockey or figure skates — with their dangerous “toe picks” — might make you. All in all, you can skate a lot faster without getting tired.
If you’re a beginner, poles really help you keep your balance, giving you the confidence to venture out on the ice. If you like to cross-country ski, you’ll probably enjoy Nordic Skating with poles, since it feels like skiing. In adverse conditions — soft, bumpy, or snow-covered ice — poles can also be a big help maintaining stability. But when the ice is perfect, smooth, hard, and black, most people skate without poles — except when using them to test the ice’s strength.
Small lakes freeze first, sometimes as early as October, and, next up, somewhat larger lakes become ‘skate-able’. Then, between December and February, parts of the archipelago in the Oslo fjord often freeze. This is the time to undertake long skating tours, but if you’re fit like a reindeer and want to go far, you’ll need headlights, as the sunlight in the northern hemisphere’s skating season doesn’t last long. And while light snow won’t prevent skating, heavy snowfall — which skiers crave — presents a challenge: speeds drop, noise increases, and it gets harder to control your skates, until it’s like walking in a festival moshpit.
Per’s Top 5 Oslo-friendly skating spots
1)Hvaler (the word means whale) is an archipelago in the outer Oslo fjord on the border with Sweden, the last stop on the seaway to Denmark and Continental Europe. Hvaler has a few larger, inhabitable islands, as well as several hundred smaller islands dotted around. When the sea ice arrives, which it does every third year or so, it’s impressive. One can easily skate 80–100 km in a single day.
2) Lake Vänern lies just over the border in Sweden, south east of Oslo. The largest lake in the EU (no kidding), it’s also Europe’s third largest. A sea in itself, allowing you to skate for miles.
3) Langen, an open, very long, narrow lake just east of Oslo, takes you swiftly into the woods. Magical, like a fairy tale.
4) Lake Vansjø, by the city of Moss, south of Oslo, provides the perfect skating experience. It’s close to the city, so if you use both of the lakes basins you’ll have 250 km of skating terrain, and ice conditions are usually fantastic. In fact, it’s South-East Norway’s best skating lake. In the early part of season, it’s the west part of the lake that’s ‘skate-able’, but from mid-December keep an eye on what’s happening in its east part. Skating ice here can be exceptional: thin, black, and smooth, giving the feeling you’re on an expedition. But plan in advance, so you know where you’re going and what you’re doing.
4) Lake Kløsa, south of Oslo, on the border with Sweden: go there for the wilderness. This is banjo country.