Elfstedentocht

As the cold descended on The Netherlands this past week, the country became very excited about the possibility of being able to hold the famed Elfstedentocht.  If you have never heard of it, the Elfstedentocht literally translates to the eleven cities tour, and it is the largest ice skating tour in the world at nearly 200 kilometers in length.  Both speed skaters and leisure skaters may enter the competition to skate along the natural ice that connects the eleven cities in Friesland, a northern province of The Netherlands, but there is a limit of 16,000 skaters.  The route traverses canals, rivers and lakes and must be completed by midnight on race day (the average time for completion for a speed skater is 7 hours).  The race is a beloved tradition and in 1986 the king himself (then just a prince at 18 years old) entered under an alias.  The first Elfstedentocht took place in 1909 and it has only been held 15 times since then.  Why?  Because the ice along the entire route must be 15 cm (6 in) thick in order for the race to take place.  The last time the Dutch were able to hold the race was 1997, so you can imagine the initial excitement about the possibility of the race taking place.  Sadly, before the cold even settled in, the race was declared a no-go due to Covid and the fact that it would draw too many crowds.  In fact, some predict that there will never again be an Elfstedentocht due to global warming and the need for the perfect winter conditions to maintain 15cm of ice thickness as well as the fact that the towns of Friesland may no longer be able to handle the crowds now that the internet and media presence increase the spotlight on these types of events drawing much larger crowds.  None the less, while they couldn’t have an Elfstedentoch this year, the Dutch definitely took to the ice everywhere and enjoyed some natural ice skating thanks to the weeklong subfreezing temperatures.  And while the fun may be over now, there is always the hope that next year will bring another chance to hit the ice!

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