Outdoor (Adventure) Ice Skating Tips in Alaska

Skating wild ice (or even ice that has been groomed) does not require expensive or heroic equipment. In fact, many people simply play upon and explore frozen channels wearing snow boots. It can be as low tech as going for a walk. Depending upon how frosted or snowy the surface, some people try skis.

But let’s say you want to skate.

Any kind of ice skate will work—the figure skates from the indoor rink, the hockey skates from the league. So don’t hesitate to strap on whatever pair that you have used in the past or find in the closet. (Some people use kick sleds, too.) But if you own cross country ski boots, especially skate boots, you might want to try Nordic skates.

They clip to the bottom of your ski boots just like a pair of skis. With heel free, you skate on them with a technique similar to skate skiing or hockey skating. Their longer nose and blade make them more forgiving when traversing rough ice or frozen vegetation.

They also can cut through layers snow and frost that would snag conventional skates. Plus, ski boots are often warmer than conventional skating or hockey shoes. In Anchorage, Nordic skates are sold and rented by Alaska Outdoor Gear Rental or Alaska Mountaineering & Hiking.

Adventure Skating Tips Comfort & Safety:

  • Ice should be at least four to five inches thick for skating and walking. Remember that wild ice is not maintained or regularly checked. You must be cautious, gather reports or drill your own holes. Even after measuring, ice thickness can vary across large bodies of water. It’s always possible to break through in an unexpected thin spot.
  • Use common sense on route finding. Ice is usually thicker along shorelines and down straight channels. Ice can be thinner where there’s current, in stream mouths or in the middle of lakes. Overflow—where water starts flowing over the top of existing ice—is common and should be avoided.
  • To ensure that you can scramble to safety if you break through into deep water, consider carrying a pair of ice safety spikes, commonly used by ice fishermen. They are sold by many outdoor stores. (A couple of Phillips head screwdrivers linked by a short rope would also do the trick.)
  • Consider carrying fire starter, a change of clothes and other survival gear if skating over ice into the backcountry. Basically, take the same precautions as for other winter backcountry travel.
  • Many parents have their kids wear bike or hockey helmets during skating. Might not be a bad idea for adults, especially novices. Consider using the same precautions that you’d take for biking, rollerskating and rollerskiing.
  • Alaska’s open wetlands with the best ice are often windy and can feel much colder than the ambient temperature. Carry extra clothing for insulation and wind protection.

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