An Elfstedentocht in Friesland, the Netherlands is what the Dutch people want more than winning a World Cup in football or unlimited free cheese.
However, the chances of an actual Elfstedentocht (‘Eleven Cities Tour’) happening again are getting smaller each and every year.
If you’re reading this and thinking “well the canals are freezing over now, so why can’t there be an Elfstedentocht?” — well, we’ve got four great reasons for you.
What is the Elfstedentocht?
First things first, what is this Elfstedentocht all the Dutch are talking about — and why do they act like like it’s some golden ring that will give power forever?
The Elfstedentocht is an ice-skating tour that follows a closed or circular route along frozen canals, rivers and lakes visiting the eleven historical Frisian towns of Leeuwarden, Sneek, IJlst, Sloten, Stavoren, Hindeloopen, Workum, Bolsward, Harlingen, Franeker and Dokkum.
The almost 200-kilometre long tour is held only if the ice is, and remains, at least 15 centimetres thick along the entire course. That’s because about 15,000 skaters will take the route (and a gazillion people will watch).
The last tours were held in 1985, 1986 and 1997. All participating skaters must be members of the Association of the Eleven Frisian Towns, so if you’re wondering if you can ever participate then the answer is a flat-out no.
Here’s the one I actually experienced in my life (safely and warmly from behind the TV)
So why will the Netherlands never have an Elfstedentocht again?
Global warming and temperature extremes
As you might have seen the past years, temperature extremes are all over the place, you can’t have missed it (unless you’re Donald Trump). The thing is, all the extremes in the Netherlands have been hot temperature records — not cold ones. The chart above will immediately kill the last hope Dutch people had for another Elfstedentocht.
As you can see, plenty of heat records — almost no cold records. So whatever the reason for global warming and such is, it doesn’t change the obvious trend that the Netherlands is warming up in general.
But hey, science might save the Elfstedentocht right? Look at these new techniques Dutchies are using to improve the chances of an Elfstedentocht happening again.
Coronavirus made crowds impossible
But hey! It’s 2021, and as far as we can see there is ice on the canals. Why can’t we have an Elfstedentocht this year?
The answer, like for everything else that brings us joy, is that “we can’t do it because of coronavirus.” Yep, it hurts. Before the first snowflake even drifted in the air The Royal Association of the 11 Frisian Cities came together and said that they won’t organise the event under the current coronavirus measures.
That’s just one more thing that the pesky pandemic has managed to ruin for us. But what if it snows next year? Surely we can have an Elfstedentocht then? Yeah, nah. Here’s why:
The Elfstedentocht media circus will be too big for an Eleven Cities Tour to happen
Just for a moment look at those images from 1997 again. Quite a happening back then, and even then we thought that it was a complete media frenzy. And holy shit, more than 1.5 million people were present in Friesland and 2000 (international) reporters. And that was in 1997 when the internet was still this:
Can you imagine the record-breaking media circus that would come about with an Elfstedentocht in this day and age? Might even break some US inauguration records! Friesland can’t even handle three million people normally, let alone three million on ice.
The Dutch are way too ‘safety-first’ to allow such a mega-event as the Elfstedentocht to happen
So mega crowds and thin ice. Some of you readers might just say ‘Let’s get it on’ (or as they say in Frisian: ‘iet gat oan‘ or better yet and more realistically: it giet nea mear oan).
So if you’re thinking that the Dutch will just jump for any excuse to have another Elfstedentocht than you’re not thinking it through. No mayor or minister will take a gamble with so many people and such thin ice. Hell, we even have a saying in Dutch that goes like that: niet over één nacht ijs gaan, which means “don’t go over one night of ice” meaning that you don’t want to take any stupid risks.
So there you have it, I love to be wrong about never having an Elfstedentocht again, and will be the first one to stand there in Heeg boozing it up and sure the temperatures might plummet to below zero for three weeks once in the future — but realistically speaking, the Elfstedentocht in Friesland will never happen again.