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 three 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 it’s some golden ring that will give them power forever?
Let me enlighten you: the Elfstedentocht is an ice-skating tour that follows a circular route along frozen canals, rivers and lakes and runs through eleven historical Frisian towns: 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 would take the route (and a gazillion people would watch).
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.
This used to be an annual event that stopped the nation, but it hasn’t been held since 1997. Here’s some footage from the last one, the only one I ever experienced in my life (safely and warmly from behind the TV):
So, why will the Netherlands never have an Elfstedentocht again?
Sounds like a fun even, right? Well, unfortunately the chances of it ever happening again are very slim. Here’s why:
Global warming and temperature extremes
As you might have noticed, temperature extremes are all over the place lately, 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. Unfortunately, this pretty much kills 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 is, it doesn’t change the obvious trend that the Netherlands is warming up in general.
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!
It’s just unrealistic to think that Friesland could 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, then 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 would translate to “don’t go over one night of ice”, and means that you don’t want to take any stupid risks.
So there you have it, I would love to be wrong about never having an Elfstedentocht again, and will definitely be the first to stand in Heeg booze it up.
But, 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.
Did you know about this Dutch tradition? Share your thought in the comments!