Tag Archives: natural ice
After the news about the heavy snowfall in Romania has reached the Netherlands, it seems to me like a good time to reveal to you the national obsession, spread like an octopus on Dutch minds.
Every single winter, as soon as it freezes -2°C, you hear enthusiastic Dutchmen predicting that it won’t be long until the ice will be thick enough for the ELFSTEDENTOCHT!
I’ve been living here in Holland for 5 years and until now no Elfstedentocht has been held, because it has never been cold enough. But the way that most Dutchmen seem to light up automatically from the smallest sign of frost and start to mention this tradition, is really unbelievable.
Elfstedentocht means “the tour of the eleven towns” and is organized by the Royal Association of the 11 Towns in Friesland, Friesland being one of the provinces in the North of the Netherlands, with an own language. The association was founded in 1909 and organizes since then this skating tour, not more than once a year, but depending totally on the temperatures outside, because the skating occurs on natural ice from one town to the other. Already on the first page of the association’s site there is a remark about the way that Dutch people react when there is frost, I quote: “When, after a few nights of strong frost, it becomes exciting to know if the tour will be organized, you will be able to read here all about it.”
Below is a map of the towns, just to give you an idea. The people skate from town to town, on lakes and canals (Holland is full of them), between the fields, under bridges.
The inhabitants of the province Friesland used to skate often for longer distances, because in the past a horse was a luxury not many of them could afford. For fun, a tour similar to the one now was skated several times, even centuries ago.
The tour starts and finishes in Leeuwaarden, the capital of the province, and lasts one day, the last time it was organized was on January 4th 1997. It must have been a great winter, when, after getting pneumonia by diving in the sea on January 1st (Dutch tradition), the Dutch were able to deepen the problem only 3 days later by skating in the cold for hours on end.
Since 1909 the tour was held 15 times, ONLY 15 TIMES! But maybe it’s the low frequency that makes everything so exciting, you can wish all you want, but if the ice is not min. 15 cm thick on most of the route of about 200 km, the tour will not be organized. When there are chances (minimal, believe me) that it might happen, the rayonheads (that’s how they are called) measure at least once a day the ice thickness , and if there are serious reasons, a meeting of the rayonheads will be held to decide whether it’s time to start it all.
Also, the weather institute is being consulted on a regular basis, as well as a weather forecaster known from TV, Piet Paulusma, who comes from the same province, so he has to be from there in order to be trustworthy in such matters of maximum importance. What do you think happens when there are places where the ice isn’t thick enough? I had never heard of such a thing: an ice transplant!!! In other cases a wooden construction will be placed on the ice or on its side, so that the skaters can hop on it until they reach ice again. Also carpets or rubber rugs can be used, but they try to use such artifices as little as possible.
In order to participate in such an event, you have to be a member of the association, because only the real passionated skaters should participate and no tickets should be sold for commercial profits.
At the start, the skaters receive a notebok in which they must collect stamps in every town and also from some secret control posts on the way, secret in order to avoid cheating by not skating all the route. At the finish within the maximum time period, every participant with all the stamps in the notebook receives an award: the cross of the tour of the 11 towns.
The first 11 men and the first 5 women (the discrimination is based on the smaller number of women who take part) also receive a medal.
In 1986 the tour had a very important participant, who wanted to remain incognito: prince Willem-Alexander.
In 2008 a study was carried out (probably the impatience of the Dutch was already huge) and the conclusion was that, because of the change of climate, the chance of organizing a tour is once every 18 years. If this is true, I’m afraid we only have 3 more years until the next tour, until then we will keep getting annoyed every time there’s a little bit of frost.
The Elfstedentocht (see also the post about this Dutch phenomenon) also has a pet name: tocht der tochten, which means “the tour of all tours”.
Of course, the madness goes on and it will last until this frost period is over. A weather forecaster estimated the chances for organizing the tour soon at 20%.
A rayon head (responsible for measuring the ice thickness and for organizing the tour) said yesterday on tv that at least one week with max. temperatures of -15°C would be necessary in order to get to an acceptable thickness of the ice. Until now, the lowest forecasted temperature is of -10°C in the night from Friday to Saturday.
However, the passionated Dutch will not be intimidated by such informations. The pomping stations on the rivers have been stopped and the vessels may not sail anymore in the region, because still waters freeze more easily. Yesterday the first skating marathon on natural ice took place, the Dutch insist that it is natural ice, but I really don’t see how it could be, since people have wet an athletic ground and have let it freeze, OK, the freezing process was natural, but the water that froze wasn’t originally there! On the news yesterday I saw a mother with two children holding their skates in their hands and looking very disappointed as the ice was not ready for skating yet… the despair is big, if after 2 days of moderate frost a mother gives her children skates and hopes that they can use them.
Maybe you are tempted to feel sorry for the Dutch who want to have an Elfstedentocht so badly and who have so much bad luck every year… don’t worry, they found a solution. Since the ’70’s an alternative Elfstedentocht is being organized in Austria, well what did you expect, that the Dutch climate will stop us? If we have no proper conditions, we’ll go wherever they are and pretend to be skating the tour of the 11 Dutch towns while being abroad! One of the participants in Austria said he is checking the weather in Holland all the time and that he is convinced that he will skate the tour twice this winter, in Austria as well as in Holland. Why he is convinced about it I could never tell.
On tv I’ve also seen yesterday a compilation of the news of the past years, when, just as now, there have been speculations on this subject, but the tour of all tours still didn’t happen… I don’t even know how to describe this obsession, it is kind of funny, but if you take it seriously it can be annoying and pathetic. I got so far that I start to wish it could go through, and even every year, then we would have peace at last.
On the same subject, this evening the Dutch national television will air the film from 2009 “The hel of ’63”, when a tour took place but the conditions were so bad, that only a few people managed to reach the finish. See the story of the movie here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1156132/plotsummary
To watch the film or not to watch? … That is the question 🙂