Copyright © 1997- by Prof. Timo Salmi  
Last modified Wed 3-Mar-2021 19:59:07

[Photograph: Timo on ice with skates]

The equipment

[Photograph: Skating equipment]

Long distance skating

Long distance skating (also called tour skating) is best done on natural sea ice or lake ice when the conditions are right. The technique is very similar to cross country skiing with the skating style . In fact, the same boots and bindings are used, although in skating the boots' straps must be held much tighter than in skiing.
On good ice the traveling is about 1.3 times faster than in skiing in good conditions. Typically the distances skated at one go range between 15 to 40 kilometers.
The formation of good, natural skating ice is relatively rare. Typically there are only from 5 to 30 days per season allowing skating. A suitable alternation of thaws and freezing is required. Fortunately, the winter conditions in the Vaasa area usually allow either skiing or skating.

A few words about some practicalities

Skating on natural ice is quite different from the ordinary skating in a rink. In fact, long-distance skating with the (stiff enough) ski boots, the ski bindings, the free heels, and the (long enough) skiing poles is much better likened to skating skiing than to normal skating. How one goes about it and the feeling is much closer to the former than the latter.
The natural ice is regularly much rougher and the surface more uneven than the smooth rink ice. Furthermore, there often is some snow and frost on the natural ice. Since the skates are rather long (typically between 45-60cm) they absorb much of the hits and the vibrations which the ordinary skates would not. The roughness of the ice, especially if there is some frozen snow, will cause friction (and make the going even more skiing-like).
Compared to rink-skating there are several factors and even dangers one has to observe on the natural ice and over the long distances, especially if one skates at the sea.
  • The same basic precautions apply as in any hiking out in the open. In covering long distances on the sea ice one needs a map, a compass, and the know-how about using them. There even is a real possibility of a sudden, thick fog or a heavy snowfall which will drastically drop the visibility and confuse the inexperienced. Even in a good weather getting somewhat lost on the long, open distances in the sea archipelago may lurk nearer than you may think.
  • On the sea ice the wind conditions and directions can be a big factor. One has to plan one's route sensibly and always be prepared to know how get back even if the wind suddenly turns unfavorably and picks up. On an open sea ice pushing against the wind can be really hard work. Skating in winds beyond 10m/s requires both stamina and experience.
  • A galy wind also has a considerable chill factor even at benign temperatures. The clothing must be wind-resistant enough to cover this eventuality. For example, one needs a good, rimmed hood in one's coat and insulated gloves in a gale. One of the many useful special trick additions to the clothing and equipment under such conditions is a skiing visor. If you take your clothing cues from ski hiking in the leeway of the woods, you will not get it quite right. The best cues are from skiing on the open, exposed hills of Lapland.
  • Especially at the sea, the thickness of the ice can vary drastically. One needs to know where the dangerous currents lie and how to detect them. For example, in the Vaasa archipelago there are several dangerous spots in the straights and in front of some peninsulas.
  • The quality of the surface of the sea ice can vary surprisingly much over the terrain under some conditions. This means that if one chooses another route back one never can be absolutely sure that the route back will be skatable all the way.
  • There always are small and sometimes big cracks around on the surface of the natural ice. If one runs paralleled into a such a crack, one can trip. If there is some loose snow on the ice, the cracks can be covered by it. Therefore, I now always wear kneepads when skating (missing from the equipment picture).
  • There sometimes are patches of either loose or frozen snow on the ice. In particular, if one skates with the wind, the speed can be considerable. One has to be able to make quick decisions whether to try to skate through the patches or to swerve around them. A wrong estimate will cause an abrupt halt to the proceedings. The way to go trough the small rough patches is running the skates absolutely straight, one skate clearly in front of the other (I seem usually to have the left one in front then).
  • But most importantly, long-distance skating is an extraordinary experience. A good weather, with good, gliding ice conditions, the wide-open sea distances, and being able to go almost anywhere, will give an exceptional sense of freedom. If you have never tried it, you are in for a real treat, once you get it right.

Q: I have seen on some TV programs presenting long-distance skating that many seem rather to use ordinary hiking boots bound tightly to the skates and only one, short, stiff pole instead of skating skiing boots and the long ski poles. Why is that?
A: That observation is correct. There are those two differing alternatives to choose from, although personally I unequivocally prefer the skiing emulating version. The idea behind the ordinary hiking boots indeed is in the idea hiking. If you alternate the skating much with hiking over land, you'll need the hiking boots since the skating skiing boots are not good at all for walking. They are far too specialized for that, being stiff by construction and slippery because of their narrow bottom groove system does not give much purchase. I would say that the option of hiking boots is more versatile for the general outdoors (maybe even for an overnight) while using the skiing skating boots is for concentrating on the best aspects of the actual skating.
The biggest technical difference between the two is that the hiking boots are (usually) attached also at the heel while the skiing skating boots have a free heel. (The skates in this option also tend to have a somewhat broader blade.) The problem with the fixed heel is that it is essentially clumsier. The going will both appear and actually be more awkward and slower. Furthermore, the single stiff pole is meant as a good precaution for testing treacherous ice. It is not a useful aid for the going. The long double poles, on the other hand, are for the pushing, just as in skiing. The going with free heels and the skiing poles will be more naturally flowing and decisively faster.

Q: Hi! I am keen on tour skating. I have been planning a trip to Finland. Could you help me with my arrangements? Where in Finland should I go for the skating and how to find good accommodation?
A: I am very pleased to hear that. I occasionally get these questions. However, this is outside my purview. Please appreciate that as a private person I can't take the time and responsibility to act as a virtual travel guide. To find out about tourist information you are best off using the common travel information channels. They should not be overly difficult to find on the net or through a good travel agency. I hope that this will work for you and that you'll find such arrangements to come to Finland which are to your liking. As for finding suitable tour skating venues in Finland, the same applies.

Q: Timo, do you know where I could buy good tour skates overseas at a fair price? Or would you have used skates to sell yourself?
A: I am just a hobbyist interested in the actual tour skating, not in trading. I simply can't take the time to get involved in finding tour skates for other hobbyists. Try searching yourself for any good Finnish sports store on the net. As for myself, I am not selling nor buying skating material. Sorry.

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