This long-distance skating uses a longer, thinner blade.While it has enjoyed popularity in Sweden and parts of Europe for hundreds of years, most Americans aren't familiar with the sport of Nordic skating, also known as tour-skating, back-country skating and long-distance skating on natural ice. The type of blade used for Nordic skating features a longer length and its design and thinner blade allow for a much smoother ride over uneven or snowy ice conditions, creating greater comfort for the skater, particularly over long distances.Skaters can gain greater balance with the use of poles, like those used in cross-country skiing or instead - with ideal ice conditions - can make the sport much more challenging by utilizing a "wing" or "kite" (like that in wind sailing) to catch the air while they skate.While Vermont is the main hub for Nordic skating here in North America, (largely due to the efforts of Jamie Hess, owner of Nordic Skater in Norwich, Vt.) its neighbor New Hampshire sees frequent skaters enjoying its many frozen lakes in the winter months. Each January the Squam Lake Association in Holderness holds "Winterfest," a frozen lake event that offers many outdoor winter activities including skating on a groomed "rink."As the fifth largest lake located entirely in New Hampshire, boasting a length of more than eight miles, Lake Sunapee is an ideal location to test your skills at long distance Nordic skating. The ice conditions at Sunapee are often some of the best in the state and on a sunny winter weekend you can be sure to run into others skating, skiing or sailing their way across the lake.Impressive FactThe Parks and Recreation Department in Hanover hosts a winter carnival on February 12 at Occom Pond that includes cross-country skiing, sledding, ice castle and snow sculpture contests and skating on fully groomed ice. It's considered New England's largest outdoor ice skating event.Gear BoxThe North Face Anamagi jacket (women's; men's, $149) features a hybrid design combining core insulation and stretch panels for warmth and movement out on the ice.Used as both cross-country ski boots and for attaching Nordic skates, the Rossignol X-7 boots ($164.95) are great for those new to Nordic skating and are compatible with NNN style skate ski bindings.Isvidda multi-skate blades (www.nordicskater.com, $119) attach to any winter boot with two ratcheting buckles and are available in four lengths.Ice claws (www.nordicskater.com, $15 a pair) are affordable and essential safety gear for anyone spending time on the ice. In the event of a breakthrough, these steel spikes with handles allow the user to grip onto the ice and pull themselves to safety.Expert AdviceTen years ago Jamie Hess opened Nordic Skater in Norwich, Vt., a Nordic skating specialty shop right over the New Hampshire border. He has been skating for more than 50 years and has played a major role in introducing the sport of Nordic skating to North America. He has participated in numerous New Hampshire frozen lake events and skating tours and brings groups skating on Sunapee and other New Hampshire lakes each winter season.How did you first fall in love with Nordic skating? I grew up skating on frozen ponds, starting at 6 or 7, and then for years we lived across the street from a neighbor whose back yard had ponds connected to other ponds by streams and I would skate on them. It was a nature's paradise. I went to Sweden because I was getting increasingly frustrated that skating was a solo activity, and I started reading on the Internet about how people got together to skate in groups in Sweden. They had machined-groomed ice skating trails. Every city in town has at least one lake and trails that are often a mile long.What are some of the key differences between Nordic skates and the kind of ice skating most people are acquainted with? They're really the only skates designed to be out on natural ice. They're longer and thinner, like an elongated kitchen knife, with a long curve on the front like a ski ,and the Swedish skates are made for skating over an uneven surface. Other skates are not designed to go over bumpy ice. Every time you push off, you glide twice as far.What kinds of gear do you recommend skaters come prepared with for a day on the ice? Safety precautions? Skating on machine-groomed trails are 100 percent safe because if the machine didn't fall through the ice, you won't either. On a backcountry trail you should have ice-testing poles but Swedish skate poles have really sharp spear points and can also be used to test the ice. Also good to have are what I call "ice claws," which can be purchased at our store for $15.What is special or unique about skating at Lake Sunapee? It's 8.5 miles long, which is much farther than most people could dream of skating in real life. The lake is divided by a cluster of islands that you weave through as you skate and there are three lighthouses and at one point you can see all three at once. Once you get halfway down the lake the entire southern part you see the shape of Mt. Sunapee rising up. There are people out there doing all kinds of other activities, like these little village type set-ups of people ice fishing, and when conditions are perfect, a whole fleet of ice boats will descend on the lake coming from all corners of New England. And there are other sailors using kites and wings.What are some other good spots for Nordic skating here in the region? Lake Morey in Fairlee, Vt. has four miles of groomed ice. Lake Squam has a groomed trail about the size of an inside rink that they open around New Year's and try to keep groomed until mid-March. Lake Winnipesaukee is a good spot and when it's good it's incredibly good, but there's no grooming. You can contact our store and get on a list of where the ice conditions are ideal throughout the winter as its always changing.
This article appears in the February 2011 issue of New Hampshire Magazine