Skate Wild in New England
Wild skating the Connecticut River on the Vermont-New Hampshire border
Photo © Vince Rossano
They've been skimming the ice in Scandinavia and northern European countries for centuries, but the idea of long-distance—or wild—skating is a relatively new phenom in the U.S. After all, the longest groomed U.S. ice-skating trail, the two-mile loop on Vermont's Lake Morey, pales into insignificance compared to Ottawa's city-center five-mile Rideau Canal or the 12-mile circuit on Austria's Lake Weissensee. This January, it's time to get out of the circular rink mentality and go long the next time you strap on a pair of skates.
Jamie Hess, one of the founders of the Vermont-based Montshire Skating Club (802-649-3939, www.nordicskater.com), puts it this way: "Wild skaters consider it the closest you'll come to flying. Your arms are free, your legs are free, you can go anywhere." Wearing specially designed Nordic skates (at about $300 a pair), skaters glide over bumpy ice and explore frozen lakes otherwise hidden to most shore-bound onlookers. Like cross-country skiing, you get the burn of a full workout and can reach speeds of up to 25 mph—though most long-distance excursions take it at a leisurely 10 mph or so to soak in the surroundings and the thrill of a smooth glide.
The best places to get into this new sport are lake-filled New England states like Vermont and New Hampshire, and further north into the chilly reaches of Quebec and Ontario. Lake Champlain, straddling the Vermont-New York line, is a 125-mile natural rink that's framed on either side by the beautiful Adirondacks. Wild-skating trips are obviously dependent on ice conditions, which vary in slickness and thickness as the season progresses from early December through March. It's not an unsafe undertaking, however. Hess has never had a skater go through the ice, and he notes that the worst injuries are usually bruises suffered by wobbly new skaters: "Compared to any sport on the road, like biking or inline skating, it's much, much safer," he says. "If you fall, you slide. There are no abrasions from road rash."
Hess' enthusiastic 150-member Montshire crew organizes a number of skate tours, weekend outings, and race meets all across New England, and they promise a fun new way to enjoy winter's big freeze. You can join a pre-announced day trip at no cost, organize a customized guided trip (with skates, boots, and safety gear included) for groups of up to four for $50 per hour, or join guided weekend trips that start from around $125, meals included. If you get the bug, Hess' affiliate NordicSkating.org can arrange tours to skate meccas like Sweden and Austria. Check out the Away Network's Nordic Skating Guide for more on this burgeoning new sport.
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