The Planet Interview with Jamie Hess:
Marathon Skating Is No Longer Just A Warm Weather Event

The Nordic Skater Would Like You to Give Ice Marathons a Try

By Robert "The Ice Man" Burnson

Until 1999, Jamie Hess was a software developer who lived in Norwich, Vermont, and enjoyed, along with other outdoor sports, ice skating on frozen rivers and lakes. He skated alone, for the most part. But then, he discovered the mammoth ice marathons of Northern Europe. After skating in one of them, he returned to Norwich a changed man.

He gave up the software business, opened a Nordic skate shop -- the only one in the United States -- and began organizing Nordic skating events.

He also formed an organization to promote ice marathons. Last May, the group morphed into Marathon Skating International, which will put on a dozen lake marathons and assorted other recreational events in Canada and northeastern United States this winter.

Jamie says that if you can inline, you can ice skate -- only he's pretty sure that so-called wild skating (ice skating on lakes and other frozen ungroomed surfaces) can give you an unsurpassed sense of freedom. ... No roads. You just go wherever you point your skates. ...

We reached Jamie at his shop, the Nordic Skater, where he was smack dab in the middle of the holiday rush.

Thank you, Jamie. And Merry Marathoning!

Robert: How did you get involved in ice marathons?

Jamie: Well, I've been interested in lake skating -- long-distance skating on frozen bodies of water -- since my early 20s. But it always seemed as though I was alone in the wilderness.

Then the Internet came along, and I started doing research and learned that there were massive events in other parts of the world devoted to the sport I loved.

So I arranged to go to Sweden in February of '99 and participate in a mass skating event: an 80 kilometer marathon with 4,000 participants, called the Vikingarannet. ... And it was a life changing experience.

It was wonderful to be out there on a 100-mile lake with thousands of people enjoying the same thing I enjoy. And I found that it was a part of their culture; it wasn't this foreign idea that people couldn't grasp, the way it is here.

The Stockholm Nordic Skating club has 10,000 members. And they don't just race one marathon a year; they do tours all winter long, every weekend.

All weekend long, the Stockholm subways are filled with people with skate blades sticking out of their back packs. And the club charters buses on the weekend to drive people all over central Sweden, and then they skate back to Stockholm with the wind at their backs.

Robert: It's sounds like it's more than just racing?

Jamie: Racing is a very small part of it, actually. It's mainly touring and a social activity -- a way to meet people.

Robert: It sounds similar to skiing in the United States?

Jamie: It's really cross-country ice skating: very similar to cross-country skiing, except that it's done on ice instead of snow.

Robert: Do they skate with poles?

Jamie: In Sweden, they do. The poles are a safety device and a form of propulsion. They allow you to test the ice to see if it's safe. In fact, poles are required for all participants of skating tours in Sweden. You have to carry a prescribed set of safety equipment, which includes poles, ice claws, a lifeline, and a back pack.

Robert: What is it about Nordic skating that is so special for you?

Jamie: It's a real feeling of freedom. Inline skating approaches it, but not to the same extent. On a frozen lake, you are not confined to a 10-foot wide lane or a 5-foot wide bike path. You have the entire lake, the entire frozen surface from shore to shore, and you can go any which way you want.


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Talk About this Article ... Why don't more inline skaters give ice a chance?


• Marathon Skating International

• The Nordic Skater


Copyright © 2006 by Robert Burnson

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