Wildskating: one last bit of winter fun

Jonathan Riley, Digby Courier
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As Simple as That - a column by Jonathan Riley

The Digby County lakes froze smooth and fast last week, perfect for wildskating.

Outdoor skating, the way it is supposed to be, with the sun on your face, the wind in your hair, and miles and miles of endless ice.

I suppose back in the day, no one called it wildskating—they just called it skating. But almost no one skates outside anymore.

The rink is busy and it’s easy to understand; I appreciate the ease and convenience of going to the smooth, flooded, roofed over rink. It would be hard to schedule hockey games or figure skating practice, if you had to rely on the weather.

Still there’s a price for ease and convenience, and so last week when conditions were perfect I headed out to skate in the bright sunshine of late winter. In fact I went partly to celebrate the winter, to mark its end with the ultimate in winter fun.

I chose Long Tusket Lake because of the recent land acquisition there by the Nature Conservancy—but any Digby County lake would have been perfect.

Long Tusket is long; 3.5 kilometres long and 500 metres wide through the middle; more than enough room to glide and swoop and wander aimlessly.

[Video: Wildskating on Long Tusket Lake ]

There were a couple bumps; skidoo tracks had melted and frozen into shallow ruts, the ice has lots of long deep cracks in it, and in three places, where the lake narrows, pressure ridges ripped long lines of open water.

But these all made the skating more interesting, gave me a reason to turn and kept me on my toes so to speak.

Once it knocked me from my toes. I fell, when my skate blade cut through a thin air pocket in the ice.

I landed luckily and laughed out loud as I slipped along on the glass like surface.

The amazing thing about skating is how fast and effortlessly you can travel, how quickly you can knock off the miles and explore the nooks and crannies of a lake.

I didn’t manage it this year, but high on my winter bucket list is a daylong tour on skates; start in the morning and cross several lakes, have a picnic somewhere out on the trail and then spend the afternoon returning to civilization.

In the Netherlands and Scandinavia this kind of skating is popular—the Dutch call it tourskating and they organize huge group events, travelling over canals and lakes, through urban and rural areas alike.

In Scandinavia, they call it Nordic skating or wildskating and head off to explore the lakes and rivers. They have blades that click on and off easily so the wildskater can walk between lakes. They also carry special safety equipment, including long poles and ice claws.

They wear two ice claws around their neck, where they can grab them quickly, to help them crawl out of a hole in the ice.

Wildskating is dependent not just on the weather at the moment—very few people want to skate in a snowstorm or in the rain—but it’s also dependent on the weather of the past week.

You need a good rain on thick ice and a quick freeze. And then you maybe only have a window of a couple days before the next snowfall; what Jay Griffiths, writing in Lapham’s Quarterly, calls “a few precious days of frost and rapture.”

Scientists in 2012 said the number of skateable days in Canada has declined (although not in the Maritimes).

Inspired by that study, another group of scientists in Quebec started rinkwatch.org.

For the past two years, they’ve asked backyard rink builders to log their skateable days on the webpage as a way of tracking climate change.

Others are suggesting we may be in for colder winters like this last one, thanks to a slower jetstream freeing the polar vortex to head south more often.

What ever happens, I’m going to stay alert for those perfect conditions.

As Griffiths says, “in a lifetime there are so few skating days, and each must be caught with glee.”


Organizations: Nordic

Geographic location: Digby County, Long Tusket Lake, Scandinavia Netherlands Canada Quebec

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