On Solid Water

On Solid Water
By Joel Hornborg

Without a doubt, the most incredible experience I know is gliding through spectacular frozen landscapes! Each winter, people are drawn to marvel at the beauty and power of the snow and ice that signifies a true northern winter. Even in the harshest of winter, there are wonderful opportunities to get outside and enjoy it as well. Many years ago, I was introduced to skating on natural ice by my grandfather in Sweden, and since then it has become a passion bordering on obsession.

In 2016 I had the opportunity to return to Sweden once again, and experience the Scandinavian tradition of friluftsliv (fresh air living), a national mindset toward incorporating the outdoors into many aspects of life. Each winter, thousands of Swedes engage in Långfärdskridskor (long distance skating) and share information and trip plans to seek out and skate the most incredible natural ice on frozen lakes and the coast of the Baltic Sea. Skating clubs around the country share information about ice conditions through an online social media network called skridsko.net, and local divisions of Friluftsfrämjandet (a national outdoor organization) organize group tours and ice safety courses for people of all ages and abilities. I returned home to Nova Scotia after one season having skated many tours on natural ice with very passionate and committed long distance skaters. With new ice knowledge, I was hungry to further explore the potential of Nova Scotia winters.

In North America, long distance skating has become referred to as Nordic skating, and involves travelling lakes and waterways on natural ice using specially-designed touring skates that clip onto standard Nordic skiing boots. The design simplifies putting on your skates, and makes skating long distances in varying ice conditions fast and efficient.

Natural ice is a fascinating medium, but not without its dangers, and Nordic skating puts a huge emphasis on judging ice thickness and quality. Once the ice sets in Nova Scotia, usually by late December, it quickly grows in thickness, but certain areas exposed to wind and currents can remain thin or even open water. Fluctuating winter temperatures can quickly melt or weaken ice, and falling through the ice is a real and significant danger. Taking a “plunge” can happen anytime, whether on a local pond close to land, or far out on a remote lake. Carrying proper safety equipment for measuring ice thickness and surviving a fall or plunge into cold water is paramount in any activity on ice. NO ONE should be going onto natural ice without the proper knowledge, awareness, and judgement of ice, as well as equipment for dealing with a plunge into cold water. That includes individuals, groups, and of course motorized vehicles. The Canadian Red Cross website offers some basic information on recommended ice thickness for different activities, and tips for dealing with a plunge, but ultimately it comes down to a person’s physical and mental preparation. Be prepared!

The changing winter conditions in Nova Scotia present many unique opportunities for winter sports such as skiing, snowshoeing, kick sledding, and skating. One just has to be ready to respond and adapt to each new opportunity, and sometimes combine winter activities. Even after significant snowfall, the periodic rain and refreeze often offers up new beautiful “solid water,” and I am quickly realizing the potential for skating here in Nova Scotia. Last winter, I skated about 30 days on natural ice covering over 1000km of beautiful Nova Scotian lakes.

In an effort to promote this exciting and amazing Scandinavian tradition here in Nova Scotia, I have launched Nor’Easter Adventures, implementing a series of initiatives to make Nordic-inspired winter activities more accessible, safe, and enjoyable. This includes social networking of snow and ice observations, trip reports, and ice knowledge. We are promoting Nordic-inspired sports through adventure film-making, and import and design of specialized Nordic skating equipment. Join us to find out more about our growing network as Nor’Easter, with co-hosts Greener Adventures, present A Night of Adventure for Nordic-inspired adventure films, demos, and stories from the world of natural ice!

December 5 at the Al Whittle Theatre (Studio Z) in Wolfville, and December 6 at the Common Good Solutions (5577 Cunard Street) in Halifax. Start times 8pm. Visit noreaster.ca or contact noreasteradventures@gmail.com for more information.