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This is a sport in which it’s important to remember some basic safety rules. You’ll often be going long distances in remote areas, so always bring a partner and let people know where your route will be taking you. People have been known to get stuck on broken-off pieces of ice, particularly during late winter and early spring, and you don’t want to be floating on a piece of ice alone in the wilderness. You need to bear in mind that this is a ‘skate at your own risk’ activity.
Unsurprisingly, the skating season starts in the north, where the cold hits first. Bohuslän, up on the far northwest, has ideal conditions. There are hundreds of lakes of all sizes, both saltwater and fresh, in the wild region, with the larger lakes Vänern (Sweden’s largest lake) and Vättern considered two of the finest skating spots.
This lake runs through parts of Stockholm and is the third-largest freshwater lake in Sweden. Spanning 120 kilometres (75 miles) from east to west, it’s ideal for city-dwellers who want to get out into nature during the winter. When it freezes it looks like a mirror, and often, if there’s snow on top of it, paths will be swept open for skaters. Be warned, though: ice cutters come through to make way for boats, and some sections don’t always freeze, so check safety conditions before you set out.
This lake in Dalarna is found northeast of the village of Dola-Floda. It’s one of a number of excellent spots for Nordic skating in the Dalarna region, and the route runs along the western shore towards Leksand, with glorious forests dotting the shoreline, as well as the ubiquitous red summer cottages so beloved by Swedes.
Another Dalarna gem, Öje is a small village about 17 kilometres (11 miles) north of Malung. The lake of the same name is often described as, ‘the lake with as many islands as there are days of the year’. Prepared tracks dot the lake, with several rest stops offering outside toilets and wood barbecues, perfect if you’re making a day of it.
The Nordic skating season in Dalarna is long, and the locals are passionate practitioners, hence the third Dalarna entry on our list. Lake Runn, which joins the towns of Falun and Borlänge, offers some of Sweden’s finest Nordic skating experiences, with more than 60 kilometres (37 miles) of open ice, 50 kilometres (31 miles) of prepared track and over 80 islands to explore.
This open-air recreational area just an hour north of Stockholm is a fantastic place to visit year-round, with lakes, forests and steep wooded hilltops. In winter, tracks are ploughed on Trehörningen Lake, and this might be one area where you don’t need to worry about getting lost or being alone: it’s a very popular spot to practice your Nordic skating technique, skates are available for rental and courses are available for beginners.
It’s said that long-distance skating is the easiest way to get around this area, with perfect conditions and long, wide open spaces that seem to go on forever. With 63.5 square kilometres (26 square miles) of clean, clear open water, Svegssjön Lake in Jämtland province offers some of the best Nordic skating conditions in the country, with open spaces as well as bridges to skate under and woods to stop in. The local village, Sveg, is charming and worth exploring once you’ve had enough exercise.
This lake in Järfalla can freeze over as early as October, and the local skating club is a great place to pick up some tips, as well as offering a beginner’s course in long-distance skating. The 11-kilometre (7-mile) track between Bruks Nature Area and Ängsjö is ideal for shorter journeys, and the world’s longest ploughed track is also found here.
One of the most exciting – and dangerous – places to skate, Kiristinehamn offers lakes of varying sizes and depths, which means they all freeze at different periods and for unknown lengths of time. You can more or less count on usable ice between December and March, but it’s best to check locally, as it really can’t be predicted, and the largest lakes are, well, large, meaning you could get way out and suddenly find yourself on thin ice.
Tracks on Bergslagskanalen are prepared from January through March, so it’s a fairly short season. The canal extends from Filipstad in the north to Karlskoga in the south, and when the winters are cold and dry, skating conditions on the canal are ideal. The paths are prepared in order to boost safety, although it can’t be repeated too often that you should never go out alone. The surrounding area has a number of villages and towns where you can grab a meal or drink once you’re done.
There are those who distrust saltwater ice, seeing it as soft, mushy and unreliable. The Baltic, though, has one third of the salt content of ocean water, meaning it freezes fast and hard, and there is no tide to break up the ice. The result is excellent conditions for skating, and you can skate a lot further out into the sea than you’d think. A great place to try it out is the Stockholm archipelago, and guides are available.
Use this map to find Sweden’s top ten places to Nordic skate, and remember: safety first!