Inburgering with DN: all you need to know about skating

A rare experience. Photo:

The Netherlands is in for a cold snap and that means speculation is already beginning about the options for skating outdoors. Time for a new inburgering class.

Lesson 50: Skating

1. Will we be able to skate on natural ice?
As soon as the temperature drops below zero, the Netherlands is hit by ice fever and a collective rush to get your schaatsen uit het vet – or degrease your skates. We have a few days of frost ahead – and that means speculation is already mounting about skating outdoors between the windmills.

There is nothing to dash the hopes of outdoor skaters so much as the threat of snow, so the fact none is expected in the rest of the week is the good news. As for skating, the Dutch skating union keeps a careful watch on when and where it is safe to skate outdoors.

In addition, the Netherlands has some 200 ice clubs which go all out to create outdoor ice rinks – by spraying a concrete track with water – when a spell of frost is predicted. You will, of course, need to bring your own skates.

2. Technique
A keen skater back home? Do not think the fact you can do a triple lutz or a double toe loop will be appreciated. The Dutch have been forced onto skates almost as soon as they can walk and they are into distance, speed and the perfect pootje over, not kunstschaatsen.

Staggering around the ice clutching your mates is not allowed under the coronavirus rules and a chair is strictly for the under-fives.

Schoonrijden, a slow-glide form of outdoor skating, sometimes in national costume, has been included on the Dutch national heritage list.

3. The first marathon on natural ice
When the temperature drops, speculation also starts about the prospect of the first marathon on natural ice. The competition to stage the first marathon – some 125 circles of the track – is usually a race between the ice clubs in Noordlaren (Groningen), Veenoord (Drenthe) and Haaksbergen (Overijssel).

4. It giet oan
An essential Friesan phrase to show you are in the know about skating. It giet oan – literally ‘it’s on’ – is the triumphant way of announcing that an Elfstedentocht will take place. The Elfstedentocht is a legendary 200 kilometre skating race that tours the 11 cities of Friesland and last took place in 1997.

Experts suggest the likelihood of it ever happening again are extremely low, given global warming, but that does not stop the speculation and flood of nostalgia every time we have more than a night or two of frost.

5. Koek en zopie
If it does freeze long enough to allow skating on canals and lakes you will find koek (biscuits) and zopie (something to drink) are an essential part of the experience. Today zopie is usually hot chocolate or pea soup but the word is thought to come from zuipie, or tipple, and used to refer to a generous slug of jenever, or Dutch gin which is very necessary after spending a few hours in that northeasterly wind.

6. Extra holidays
If someone is ijsvrij – literally ice free – it does not mean they have been defrosted, but that they have been given an extra day’s holiday to enjoy some skating. Traditionally, school children and workers would be given a day off if the roads were too dangerous because of snow and ice or it was too cold to work.

But since the end of the last century, some companies have been giving staff time off for skating as a gesture of generosity. Well, it is either that or have nobody turns up anyway.

7. And what about speed skating?
The Dutch dominate international competition in speed skating and the season is currently underway. It’s no surprise to find the Dutch taking all three medal positions in some events, and they have now been moving into short-track skating as well.

Riders race on a 400-meter oval track, with only two on the ice at the same time for all individual events. The men cover 500, 1,000, 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000 metres, the women 500, 1000, 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000 metres. The team pursuit involves three riders skating together while the mass start is exactly what it says.

Various competitions take place throughout the season – allround (for the skater who does best over four distances), the single distance championships and the World Cup, as well as the Olympics every four years.

An allround experience: watching Sven and Ireen front of their home crowd

The centre of speed skating in the Netherlands is at the Thialf stadium Heerenveen in Friesland and if you want to see Dutch skating fans at their most fanatical, it is well worth a visit. The European championships take place there this coming weekend (January 5-7).

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