An ‘Elfstedentocht’ in Friesland in 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. Here are three reasons why an Elfstedentocht will (probably) never happen again in the Netherlands.

Yes, I know:

What is the Elfstedentocht? 

First things first, what is this Elfstedentocht all the Dutch are talking about like it’s some golden ring that will give power forever? 

The tour 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 tour, almost 200 km in length, is held only if the ice is, and remains, at least 15 centimeters thick along the entire course as about 15,000 amateur skaters will take part (and a gazillion people watching it). 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 ‘no’.

Here’s the one I actually experienced in my life (safely and warmly from behind the tv)

So why will the Netherlands will never have an ‘Elfstedentocht’ again?

Reason 1: 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. Here’s a chart that will immediately kill the last hope Dutch people had for another Elfstedentocht.

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Oof. Not much chance of the Elfstedentocht happening, it would seem. Image: datagraver/KNMI

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.

Well, modern-day techniques are also one of the reasons it will never happen again.

Reason 2: 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 3 million people normally speaking, let alone 3 million on ice.

And that’s leading me, Captain Buzzkill, to reason number 3 why the Elfstedentocht WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN EVER (Ok, now I’m liking this role way too much)

Reason 3: 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 Russian or Mexican 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). But not us Dutchies, we were already busy talking for days on end about a bridge in building accident in Alphen aan de Rijn that killed no-body:

We had a safety commission and everything about this one. We are an extremely safety loving country.

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 3 weeks once in the future – but realistically speaking, the Elfstedentocht in Friesland will never happen again.

I know:

Have you ever been to an Elfstedentocht? What was it like? Let us know in the comments below.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on 26 February 2018 but was updated on 8 January 2020 for your reading pleasure. 
Feature image: Wikimedia Commons. 

7 COMMENTS

  1. Reasons 2 and 3 are total nonsense. Reason 1 is the most credible of the 3 but if that ice gets to the required thickness, you watch it happen.

  2. Although I have several close relatives who have skated the elfstedentocht, and I have skated the canals, ditches and grachten in my youth, I have never come close to skating the Elfstedentocht. However, I have an aunt, my father’s sister, who skated it THREE times : in 1941, 1942 and 1947. She may have very well been the only woman to have ever done so. However, what makes her very special and unique is that she is most likely the first AMBONESE to have even skated ONE, let alone THREE. Her tile is on the Gietsjerk Bridge, a couple of meter below the one of HRH Willem Alexander. She will be 103 yer old at the end of this month; however, sadlly, she has been dement the last ten years. I will try and attach the photo of her tile.
    Marie Josien (“Mia”) Tehupeiory, 28 Jan 1917, a most determined woman. Incidentally the daughter of Dr WK Tehupeiory about whom a bio was written in 2004.

    • It was nice you shared the story of your aunt. God bless her for reaching 103. Who knows, maybe a photograph of the race might trigger some memory in her, if you go and visit.

  3. Thank you for this information. I kept an interest until the final race. i did know that the canals had to be thick and safe. I think I began my interest when I was in the army in Heidelberg Germany l958.

  4. We used to live on Marken and my wife lived for the Elf Steden Tocht.
    As an Irishman that had never seen ice at all it was hugely scary to walk out on ice for the first time looking down to see the lake bottom and plants move beneath my feet. However I became a competent scater and even once got to ride an ice-boat. Once. Coldest experience of my life.
    However I agree, even if the ice returned, no council would allow the media and public frenzy that would result. 1997 proved that.

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