Using a skating rink for training or fun is usually the only practical option, but it’s impossible to forget just how artificial the entire experience is. Loud, tinny music and having to dodge between dozens of people will sometimes make you wish that you could skate all by yourself – even outdoors.
Although not a possibility in milder latitudes, skating in nature is not as much of an eccentric hobby as you may think. Group tours and packages are available, including multi-day treks along rivers and streams. If you’re the adventurous type, you can also follow the DIY route and just go camping near a lake. Just make very sure that the ice is indeed strong enough to play on.
Getting Back to the Roots of Ice Skating
Long before anyone ever thought of hockey or figure skating, a few enterprising souls figured out that it’s much faster to go across a frozen lake than around it, and that frozen rivers or canals make great raceways and transport routes.
The earliest known ice skates – from Finland, and estimated to be 3 millennia old – were simply hollow bones that could be strapped to a bootsole lengthwise. These only had a limited ability to steer, so the skater would use poles to push forward and turn, somewhat like skiing. It took quite some time for sharpened blades made of metal to make skating easier and more fun, but even then the point was usually to get from point A to point B quickly and without working up too much of a sweat.
Getting hot and sweaty is good cardio, but if you don’t have a conveniently warm place to cool down afterwards, evaporation will quickly leave you shivering and can lead to hypothermia. Even if you’re staying at a lodge or cabin with a fireplace, it’s definitely a good idea to have a warm, dry change of clothing waiting for you when you get off the ice.
Should you desire to really get away from it all, it’s still essential to choose a spot where you can park a car nearby. Accidents do happen to even the most skilled skaters, and trying to hike back to civilization with a torn ligament or sprained ankle is not anyone’s idea of a good time.
Camping in the cold entails some risks all by itself. These can easily be managed if you know what you’re doing, but it’s definitely a bad idea to try it by yourself unless you’ve done it before. It’s always best to camp together for a number of reasons: you can share equipment and the work of preparing meals, keep each other entertained once the sun goes down and help out if something should go wrong.
What You’ll Need
Lake and river ice isn’t always quite as smooth, clean and homogeneous as the surface of a rink, so take a pair of sturdy touring or hockey skates even if you pack figure skates as well. Several spare sets of socks will come in handy too, as fabric doesn’t really dry out quickly when the temperature is below freezing.
A good set of winter camping gear will probably set you back almost as much as a more conventional holiday, but this isn’t something you should neglect. A sleeping bag intended for use in warmer climates will never be “almost good enough,” and without things like an insulated sleeping pad, you’re sure to have a terrible time.