Tour skating is recreational long distance ice skating on natural ice. It is particularly popular in the Netherlands and the Nordic countries. While Nordic skating usually involves tours over open ice on lakes or sea, in the Netherlands skaters follow marked routes on frozen canals and connected lakes. Consequently there are differences in equipment and skating styles between these two regions.
Nordic skating is a popular activity in Sweden but is also becoming more popular in Finland and Norway, where it is called långfärdsskridskoåkning (in Swedish), retkiluistelu (in Finnish) and turskøyting (in Norwegian). In Canada and the United States this style is often called Nordic skating. Other names used are trip skating and wild skating.
Dutch skating is called toerschaatsen and is regarded by some as a sport in its own right.
Nordic skating originated during the 1900s in Sweden. It usually involves choosing your own tours over the open ice, sometimes in groups normally with safety equipment. Nordic skates differ significantly from the Dutch tour skates.
Nordic tour skates are fitted with a blade approximately 50 cm long and are attached with bindings to specialized boots similar to walking boots or cross country skiing boots, often with a free heel. Since tour skating often involves walking between lakes or around sections not suitable for skating, the fact that the blades can be easily removed from the boots is convenient.
In addition the following safety equipment is often recommended:
Knee and elbow pads and a helmet are also commonly used.
In late autumn/early winter the small lakes freeze first, sometimes as early as October. Next the somewhat larger lakes freeze and become skateable. Light snow does not necessarily prevent skating and in some places tracks are ploughed to keep them open.
In January-February parts of the archipelago in the Baltic sea often freeze. This is the time when long skating tours can be undertaken. Tours of 60-80 km in one day are not uncommon - some skate over 150 km.
Sweden's largest tour skating association is "The Stockholm Ice Skate Sailing and Touring Club" (SSSK). Finland's largest tour skating association is Finland's Tour Skaters. Several associations in Sweden, Finland, Norway, Netherlands, and U.S.A. are members of Skridskonätet. Through Skridskonätet, the members of the various associations share information on where ice suitable for skating can be found. Skridskonätet also maintains a list of tour skating clubs in mainly Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands.
Despite its maritime climate in which real cold winters are rare, skating is traditionally the most popular winter pastime in the Netherlands even if many speed skating competitions have been moved indoors. Thousands of Dutch leap at the chance in cold winters to tie up their skates and glide across frozen lakes and canals, and sports stores all over the country sell out their skates.
The skaters mostly use common such skates with long blades or speed skates, with long blades rigidly attached to the skating shoes. Ice-poles and other safety equipment are not carried.
Skate tracks on natural ice are maintained by the towns and communities, who take care of the safety of the tracks.
In Canada, outdoor skating on natural frozen lake and ponds is common but not as a method of travel or tourism, rather people with skate in a circular route around the lake, or create an improvised ice hockey rink for a game of "shinny".
However, starting in 1971, the section of the Rideau Canal that runs through the centre of Ottawa, the national capital, has been used as a skating corridor. This has become a major tourist attraction and a popular method of commuting in with Ottawa's locals. In 2011 932,331 people used the skateway. Starting in the 1990s The Forks area of Winnipeg, where two rivers join, has also been used as a skating trail, and by 2008 was longer than the Rideau skateway (though much narrower). Due to natural variations in ice conditions, the Assiniboine Credit Union River Trail, as it is officially called varies in length each year. Similar plans to turn Montreal's Lachine Canal into a skating venue have been discussed since 2000, but were still awaiting the needed funding in 2012.
Long distance skating on lakes and rivers in eastern Canada and north-eastern USA was more common in the years between 1850 and 1900. One region of note was the lower reaches of the Saint John River in New Brunswick. In Saint John: A Sporting Tradition, Brian Flood writes:
However, on the soles of the hearty ladies and gentlemen who lived along the St John and Kennebecasis Rivers, there was a different type of skate. They used the famous "Long Reachers". Around the year 1870, James A. Whelpley patented the "Long Reach Speed Skates". Whelpley's skate factory was located at Jones Creek, on the Long Reach. Here, he turned out skates that became famous all over the continent. The skate had a blade seventeen inches long. The "woods" of the skates, at the widest point, measured less than an inch and a half. A screw protruded up a half an inch at this point. The skates were firmly attached with heel and toe straps made of heavy leather.
"Long reachers" were ideally suited for the long expanse of the St John and Kennebecasis Rivers. A man on these skates could travel long distances in a relatively short period of time. From Saint John to Fredericton, by the way of the St John River, is a distance of about eighty miles. It was not uncommon for an able-bodied young man to skate this distance in a little under seven hours.