Dutch take to skates as cold snap freezes canals

Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:53am EST
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By Reed Stevenson

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch strapped on skates and flocked to icy canals this weekend as freezing temperatures afforded an increasingly rare chance to skate across their flat country.

After more than a week of cold, an estimated 2.3 million skaters, out of a population of 16 million, have taken to frozen canals and lakes, according to a poll released ahead of the weekend.

That number is expected to double if Queen Beatrix decides to don her skates as well.

"The number of opportunities you have to skate in the Dutch winter is decreasing," said Jochem van de Laarschot, who usually speaks on behalf of Dutch food retailer Ahold but took a half a day off last week to skate.

"Once the opportunity comes up you have to get your skates out and jump on the ice," he said.

Warmer global temperatures have led to less natural ice forming in the low-lying Netherlands, where the topography of interconnected waterways makes it an ideal winter skating playground. Speed skating is the national sport.

Anticipation is growing for the "Elfstedentocht" or "11 Cities Tour," a national event where speed skaters race along a 200-km (120-mile) course beginning and ending in the northern city of Leeuwarden.

This year marks the 100th year since the race began and if held, the tour would be the first in over a decade.   Continued...