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The Art and Beauty of Nordic Skating

Nature is my sanctuary. I can’t imagine a life not lived outdoors, in places crafted by nature rather than human hands. My soul needs it for me to stay sane, to stay grounded. When I’m outdoors – in the forest, in the mountains or on a frozen lake – it’s the only place I feel I can really breathe. You know, that deep breath that fills your whole body with energy and a sense of calm. This is where I feel most happy; it’s where I go to be myself, to feel free and connected to my soul and the earth – whether that's in a kayak, in hiking boots, on a bike or in a pair of Nordic skates.


Here in Sweden the seasons are dramatically different, as are the activities you can do outside. I deeply appreciate being able to interact with the natural world in different ways throughout the seasons. In the winter, I Nordic skate. I skated as a child, but was never very good at it; I have been doing it again for a couple of years now, using it as a way to get outdoors in the colder months. I started on a ploughed track on Lake Mälaren, the third largest freshwater lake in Sweden, close to Stockholm, in a pair of rental boots and Nordic skates – in Sweden you can often rent skates by the hour close to the many ploughed tracks created for Nordic skating. Now, having done it for a couple of years, I’ve moved away from skating on these tracks as I want to feel a greater sense of freedom – although they are a great (and much safer) way to begin Nordic skating.


My home in Sweden, the small city of Västerås, is an excellent place for Nordic skating, with a long skating season and beautiful frozen lakes nearby. The chase for the perfect ice is thrilling, and with all the searching and planning, it can become addictive. It usually starts the day before with reading ice observations on the Nordic skate community’s website and checking the weather forecast, mostly to anticipate overnight changes and to best understand whether the ice may grow thicker or become thinner. Wind, clear skies and low temperatures in the minus degrees (Celsius) are what we hope for during the night before a skate. The ice is constantly changing, and just because someone (or yourself) has skated somewhere the day before doesn’t mean that it will be okay to skate on the following day. It all depends on the weather and the movement of the ice.

In addition to the weather, it is necessary to study the area you intend to skate on a map and plan your route before heading out; this can reveal any weak spots – like a river flowing into the lake, sounds or bridges – and enable you to figure out a way to bypass them. It’s not uncommon to have to get on land and walk a bit to pass weak spots, and this is why the Nordic skate is constructed to be separate to the boot. This preparation is a part of what I like about it, even the seemingly more trivial things like making a lunchbox to bring – I usually bring soup in a flask with bread, water to boil for coffee, and of course something for a fika (Swedish coffee break) – a cinnamon bun most probably. The preparation is half the fun; it extends the experience, just as it does for any outdoor pursuit.


Even once you have done your research, you never really know the quality of the ice until you step out onto it. What we dream of and chase is that fresh, black ice. Black ice is the smoothest ice you can skate. It’s magical! Though, it doesn’t come along too often because of snow. Snow is our enemy on the ice, for various reasons. If it snows a lot, it makes it impossible to skate; if there is just a thin layer, you can still skate, but you have to be more aware because you can’t see what’s hidden beneath it. You can’t see cracks, warm water holes, drain holes or weak areas such as pressure ridges and areas with shell ice. But the feeling you get when you come across good, smooth, solid ice is just amazing! You get your gear on and just glide off. There are no roads or trails to follow. You just go wherever the ice and Mother Nature allows you to go. Nordic skating gives me the ultimate sense of freedom because of this. It’s just me, my friends, the elements and my knowledge. Nordic skating doesn’t consume a lot of energy compared to the distance you travel, which means you can go on for hours – I may skate from an hour up to six hours, travelling between 30–70 km, and it is possible to do multi-day trips, covering great distances.

Most often the lakes are totally still and silent, which incites such a special feeling; you hear only the sound of the wind, the sound of your skates gliding on the ice, and the sound of the ice itself. If the ice is thin, it sings, making this incredible sound that’s hard to describe; it’s a crackling, whistling, high-pitched almost electric sound. On the snowy banks, wildlife and their tracks can be spotted, and birds fly overhead. I cherish this space and love the wind in my face and the feeling of speed and being away from it all. If you want time to think or be alone, it’s easy to find it out here on the vast and numerous lakes.


The best day I’ve ever experienced on the ice was a trip this year to Lake Vättern. The ice was perfect! One of my dreams has been to skate on ice that's transparent, to skate across the lake and around its islands and see the lake floor beneath me. The sun was shining, and it felt like I was flying over rocks and stones. The only thing that gave away that I was gliding on ice was the small cracks here and there. I couldn't count the number of times I stared down as I skated. It was certainly something to tick off the bucket list.

Nordic skating can be relaxing, but you also have to be focused and aware of your surroundings. I love the rush I get when I glide over the ice knowing that there is freezing water just 5–15 centimetres underneath my skates – some say I’m kind of an adrenaline junkie. To be safe you need to have knowledge of the ice, and there is so much you can learn about the different types of ice – black ice, slush ice, sea ice, freshwater ice, etc. It’s such an interesting material that is forever changing and moving, forcing you to always be observant. You must constantly keep checking the ice, using all of your senses. I let my eyes skim across the lake to see if I can spot any weak spots. I also rely on my hearing, concentrating on how the ice sounds. The sound tells you a lot. If it’s over 10 centimetres thick, it tends to be silent and the only sound you hear is the repetition of your skates. The thinner it is, the more high-pitched the sound becomes. I don’t want to fall through the ice, but I’m not scared of it happening; I practice falling through and the techniques I need to climb out. I also have to rely on my sense of touch, stabbing the ice with my pik (an ice pick used to test the ice) to determine its thickness and strength. Even if you let your mind drift, you have to stay present and in the moment. I love this. I leave all my problems and messy mind at the edge of the lake and enjoy the time I have on the ice. It allows me to be mindful and meditative.


Every time Madelene goes Nordic skating, she stops to enjoy a lakeside 'fika'. The literal definition of 'fika' is “Swedish coffee break”. But like other Scandinavian concepts, such as 'hygge' and 'lagom', it encapsulates a sensibility. 'Fika' is a Swedish institution; it allows a moment to slow down, reflect on one’s own thoughts or gather with friends. It’s not so much about the beverage itself, but it usually consists of coffee or tea paired with a baked good.

I also appreciate skating as a social activity, making time for friends and doing something we all love together. It unites people through a shared passion. When we have skated for a while, we’ll stop for lunch or fika. We land, find the perfect spot away from the cold winds, light a small fire, eat and drink whilst talking about where to go next, and enjoy the view.

Nordic skating opens up the same natural spaces and wild places I use for other activities at varying times of the year, allowing me to experience these environments in a completely different way. I long-distance skate on the same water and in the same area that I kayak in the summer and autumn. On skates, I gain a new perspective, a higher perspective, on my surroundings. The world is a beautiful place throughout the seasons; you simply need to get out there to experience it, and open your heart as well as your eyes to the beauty of these spaces. When you do, you discover far more than just what the eye sees. Here in Sweden, you do not have to get far away; nature is always just around the corner. •


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This story is from Volume Eleven

The Frozen Volume

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