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Ice skating: from much-loved pastime to Dutch national sport

Every winter in the Netherlands it’s a waiting game – will it freeze, or won’t it? And, at that very first sign of frost, the entire nation is consumed with “ice skating fever”. In fact, some Dutch are so fanatical about ice-skating that they’ll even arrange a few days annual leave in order to make the most of the natural ice. But how did this unshakable shared Dutch love of ice skating actually come about?

Ice skating in the Netherlands

The history of ice skating in the Netherlands

Archaeological excavations indicate that Dutch people were already ice skating in prehistoric times. In those days they wore rudimentary ice skates fashioned from cattle, horse or deer bone, which were subsequently sharpened to allow them to glide more easily over the ice. By the Middle Ages the Dutch had progressed to using iron for the manufacture of their skates, which were then known as ‘ijzers’ (irons) or ‘ijzeren schoenen’ (iron shoes). During this period ice skating was simply viewed as a fun recreation, as evidenced by the famous paintings depicting ice skating scenes by the celebrated Dutch masters. Indeed, it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that the Dutch finally began to organise their first competitive ice skating events – contests that quickly became so popular that they prompted the foundation of the ‘Koninklijke Nederlandsche Schaatsenrijders Bond’ or KNSB (Royal Dutch Skating Association) on 17th September, 1882. And although these days the Netherlands is remarkably successful at both long and short track speed skating (indeed the tiny nation took home as many as 23 of the possible 36 medals up for grabs at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games!), short track, figure skating, marathon skating and tour skating are also extremely popular with Dutch people of all ages.

Skating on natural ice in the Netherlands

If you too like ice skating and are fortunate enough to be in the Netherlands this winter, then skating on natural ice in the great Dutch outdoors is an absolute must! Providing the ice is thick enough, you can enjoy ice skating on almost all of the Dutch waterways, including streams, rivers, canals and lakes – just remember to check the Natuurijs website for live information on locations that are safe to use, before heading off. Alternatively, consult the KNSB website for more detailed information on current ice skating conditions – a reliable and comprehensive resource that’s particularly helpful for those planning to organise an ice skating race or competition. Lastly, if you are out and about on the natural ice in the Netherlands this year, then don’t forget to bring along the traditional Dutch ice skating refreshments affectionately known as ‘koek en zopie’ – mouth-watering dairy butter almond cakes and a warming thermos filled with creamy hot chocolate or hearty pea soup!

Prefer to read this article in Dutch? Then visit our sister blog, Heimwee.info, specifically intended for Dutch emigrants.

One comment on “Ice skating: from much-loved pastime to Dutch national sport

  1. Arto Bäcklund
    10/02/2016

    Wellcome to Savitaipale in the southern part of Finland just 230 km from the Helsinki airport to our skating event 27.2.2016 at 12.00
    Accomondation available also for the groups. We have also a Spa just 300 m from the track.
    Pls. see

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