Winter in Sweden lasts for about 11 months of the year, or at least it feels that way, but I have learnt to love it. All this changed when I took up long-distance ice skating. Rather than sinking in despair as the temperature plummets, I was willing it to get colder so the lakes would freeze over and I could get my skates on.
An unforgettable skating trip took place on Vättern, Sweden’s second-largest lake, which lies some three hours south-west of Stockholm. Ice skating on lakes has its dangers and top of that list is falling through the ice. It’s best to skate as part of an organised trip, follow all safety guidelines and have the necessary equipment. Mine was organised by a club and the experienced guides planned the route and checked the thickness of the ice. I carried ice picks, poles, a waterproof bag with dry clothes, and a long rope (for throwing into the ice should someone from my party fall through, so that I could help pull them out).
On arriving at Vättern, we were split up into groups based on our skating abilities. Then there was no hanging around and we were off. The ice was incredible – a happy marriage of optimal weather conditions led to it freezing in such a way that it was completely smooth and transparent. It made the experience like skating on a mirror.
The scenery was stunning. The sky was a brilliant blue and the lake mirrored the world around us. The tricky thing, though, was that skating on such a smooth surface meant that there were no room for errors. Just losing my balance slightly would send me tumbling over. I fell again. And again. And again.
Falling on ice hurts. Soon my knees were black and blue, and my entire body was protesting loudly. It was one of the toughest experiences I’ve had, but it was also completely exhilarating and the beauty of being there made up for it. As I skated, I could see straight through to the lake’s floor bed. Once, I thought I spotted a fish swimming underneath but in the blink of the eye and it was gone. Perhaps it was just a figment of my aching body’s imagination, but I like to think that the fish was there wondering what on earth these nutters were doing above it.
It took us three hours to make our way 20 km across Vättern (with obligatory fika break). I’ve skated on other lakes and even took part in the Viking race, but the Vättern trip is my favourite to date. When we first arrived in Vättern, we heard that the locals were super excited and were out in force, raving that they hadn’t seen ice like this in over 30 years. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and despite the severe bruising, it was absolutely magical.
My trip was organised by Friluftsfrämjandet (rough translation is Outdoor Association), a non-governmental organisation that promotes outdoor pursuits in Sweden. Information about long-distance ice-skating trips and courses are available here (in Swedish only).