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The Elfstedentocht (or Alvestêdetocht in West Frisian, sometimes in English : Eleven Cities Tour),  is the world’s largest speed skating competition and leisure skating tour, and is held in the province of Friesland, Netherlands only when the ice along the entire course is 15 cm thick.

The tour, almost 200 km in length, is conducted on frozen canals, rivers and lakes between the eleven historic Frisian cities: Leeuwarden, Sneek, IJlst, Sloten, Stavoren, Hindeloopen, Workum,Bolsward, Harlingen, Franeker, Dokkum then returning to Leeuwarden. The tour is not held every year, mostly because not every Dutch winter permits skating on natural ice. The last editions were in 1985, 1986 and 1997. Adding to that, the tour currently features about 15,000 amateur skaters taking part, putting high requirements on the quality of the ice. There is a stated regulatory requirement for the race to take place that the ice must be (and remain at) a minimum thickness of 15 centimetres along the entirety of the course. All skaters must be a member of the Association of the Eleven Frisian Cities. A starting permit is required. Further more, in each city the skater must collect a stamp, as well as a stamp from the three secret check points. The skater must finish before midnight.

Since the Elfstedentocht is such a rare event, its declaration creates excitement all over the country. As soon as a few days pass with sub-zero temperatures, the media start speculating about the chances for an Elfstedentocht. The longer the freezing temperatures stay, the more intense this “Elfstedenkoorts” (eleven-city tour fever) gets – culminating in a national near-frenzy when the announcement is spoken that the tour is actually taking place.

Now, NO, I don’t take part in all this excitement. I couldn’t care less. But the Elfstedenkoorts totally hit the country! It’s topic of speech wherever I go, herefor I thought to inform you about what’s currently happening in The Netherlands. 

There are often points along the route where the ice is too thin to allow mass skating; in 1997 ice-transplantation was introduced to strengthen weak places in the ice, for instance under bridges. As early as 1760, there has been mentioning of skaters visiting all eleven cities of Friesland on one day. Therefore, the Elfstedentocht was already part of Frisian tradition, when in 1890, Pim Mulierconceived the idea of an organised tour, which was first held in 1909. After this race, the Vereniging De Friesche Elf Steden (Association of the Eleven Frisian Cities)  was established to take care of the organisation.

The Elfstedentocht of 1963 is known as “The hell of ’63” when only 69 of the 10.000 contestants were able to finish the race, due to the extremely low temperatures -18°C and a harsh eastern wind. Conditions were so horrendous that the winner of ’63, Reinier Paping, became a national hero, and the tour itself legendary.

But when I cycled past the canals of Amsterdam yesterday, it all looked quite romantic and I was surprised how many people were enjoying themselves on the canals. I took some (apologies for the quality!) pictures and you can even see a very entrepreneurial lady who’s selling (I assume) hot coco to iceskaters from her houseboat…

I haven’t tried iceskating for years (I do the inline version in summer/spring), but I must say, even though the ice looks scarily thin and unreliable, the whole iceskating- “thing” is supercozy and even a bit tempting….  How about you? Did you ever ice-skate? Like it? Would you skate on the Dutch canals? 

More info in Dutch or Frisian; http://www.elfstedentocht.nl/

Thx again wikipedia


EDIT @09 Feb; It has been announced that the ice is too dangerous for having The Elfstedentocht. The whole coutry is dissapointed..