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Transition: inline to ice (and back)

So you consider yourself a respectable in-line skater and want to try ice-skating too, like all those international stars... This wants to be a quick, basic and rough guide to initiate a roller skater to the ice adventure. We will focus on long-track and marathon ice skating, letting out entirely short-track for being too specialistic: the skates and apparel required are quite dissimilar, less readily available and more expensive in general (except maybe the top-of-the range long track blades, which are thousands of euros worth), and its technique involves more complicated notions, which makes it more difficult to beginners. Besides, short track resembles too much to indoor in-line skating (which Yankees persist on consider a different sport), so it is not really compatible with the much more popular road skating that the majority of racers and virtually all fitness skaters practice – and to whom this article is written for.

After the Olympic glory Chad and others achieved, many inliners are considering (or simply made) the switch from wheels to blades. Even the Italian and USA national teams (see here Linda Wood’s excellent pictures >>) were recently taken to an oval to do some laps and check how it feels, with the intention of enthralling some more top athletes to this thrilling but widely marginal sport. So if you’re toying with the idea, it’s not a bad idea after all… Even if you never had any Olympic aspirations.

Italian National Team in Baselga

Pictures by
Cristiano Mariani  
Saggiorato    Luca Presti   

Don’t want to be cocky here, but I’ve been raving about ice skating since the eighties (see this article in Spanish >>, written 2 years ago). I flirted –or rather had a one night stand- with ice speedskating during Junior World Champioships in Baselga di Pine in early 1992, just when in-line skates were coming down with a stumble to our quad-driven world. Having borrowed a pair of speed skates dating from WW II (with rusted and stitched blades), I must say with great conviction that it felt great from the very beginning, even if at the first corner I did fall down and slide the whole bend on my arse. After an afternoon spent practicing, I even had the chance to do a “demo” relay race that was incredibly fun… and even gratifying, as my team didn’t came last but somewhere in the middle of the ranking.

At that time, everyone was discovering in-line technique, and when I skated back on wheels again I could immediately notice the benefit blades gave me. To me, these are two versions of the same sport, twins separated at born. There are so many similarities between them that I found it a life-size nonsense not to profit from each other. So, my humble advice is: at least once in your skate-life, try ice. You won’t be disappointed.

Where to

Where else do you find as much ice rinks as football fields? Or several races for all possible levels and distances during the same week? Maybe even outdoors competitions, gliding on frozen channels in the countryside? (although not every winter, sadly). There’s no other answer than Holland, or rather call it Skateland. After all, they invented skating, you know?
For a country that can be entirely skated in a day or two, it has an amazing array of advantages:

● The best tulips, diamonds, windmills and cookies in the whole world.
● Possibly, they also have the best beer in the world (in spite of what the Danes say).
● A high percentage of the best looking girls in the whole world (my female informants suggests that the opposite gender assertion is also true, but take their word with a pinch of salt).
● Thousands of miles of smooth asphalted bike trails on a flat geography.

Of course there has to be some drawbacks too, otherwise we all would be living in Holland:

● An incomprehensible barbaric language is widely spoken, almost as bad as German (sorted out by the fact that every Dutch and his grandma speaks good English).
● The most miserable weather this side of the North Pole: they see more eclipses than sunshine over there.
● A rather poor menu: their national dish is fries with mayonnaise, can you believe it? They even have spaghetti as side dish. Spaghetti!
● Non-smoking signs are usually ignored, except on ice-rinks… but then ice-rinks are sort of cathedrals for this people: speedskating is a religious philosophy for them, brother.

OK, but where exactly?
Specifically, where in the Netherlands should we go for a good ice skating? There’s plenty of ovals to choose from, in case the North waterways are not frozen. Of course you have the Mecca of speedskating which is Heerenveen, locally known as Thialf (

Thialf: ice cathedral

There are as well tracks inside impressive stadiums or complexes (most of them roofed) in every dutch latitude: Amsterdam (, Deventer (, Eindhoven ( and more. So, if you happen to pick a dutch girlfriend that lives nowhere near Heerenveen, sack her at once and find cheap accommodation on any Stayokay hostel ( located next to your favourite track. You’ll easily find a replacement for her over there.


Nothern Hemisphere Wintertime. Obviously. But is it so obvious? How about gliding in a glacial lake among the dramatic landscapes of Patagonia in mid august? An ice-skating development programme is going on down there, stay tuned for more news coming soon on this channel.

What to bring

Ice skates are not simple as they might seem. Blades must be treated before use: sharpening, grinding, burring… Nothing you are used to with in-lines, so if your skates are brand new, have an expert to prepare them (takes about 15-20 minutes, relatively inexpensive). To have an idea about it, check here >>. I was lucky enough to have the job done at Stouwdam Sport (near Deventer, superb shop) by none the less than Roy, a world class athlete with a HUGE personality.

Roy: the longest blade ever Look closer, please...

After preparation, blades become exactly that: a dangerous cutting weapon. So be careful, and don’t use them to slice your beef, unless you’re a castaway in some Pacific island.
Clap or fixed? If you are an advanced racer, I would say go on straight with claps. Otherwise take it easy and try fixed blades first.
Boots: It's OK to use your standard inline 165mm mounting boot with a blade, even though it’s not the ideal situation, because you will need a slightly different support on your foot and ankle.
You will need layers of clothing, as in every normal winter training session. Nobody will laugh at you if you enter the rink wearing a Russian fur hat with a hawaian shirt under a velvet jacket and jeans, but you’d better do as Romans do… that is, buy a training skinsuit. For about 100€ (less if on sale) there are thicker lycra ones, without the hood (hoods are for quick guys only). You need a t-shirt under your skinsuit, preferably a thermal one. Gloves are a must; briefs/knickers are useful too, and I’m no kidding. If you’ve got cold feet use wool socks, but normal cotton short socks are ideal. Better put on a skating/cycling jacket on top of it all, and wear a wool hat or similar, otherwise your ears will fall down after a couple of laps (helmets are a no-no). Bear in mind that after a session you’ll probably will end up soaked wet (especially if you take a lot of closer looks to the ice surface), so bring abundant clothing change. Especially if you need to disguise yourself after a pathetically bad session.
Other stuff
● You need plenty of water to drink, as well as a generous dose of alcohol beverages to get before and after sessions in order to warm up a bit. Ok, forget about this last one if you’re serious enough about sport, but don’t entirely discard it.
● A cereal bar o chocolate might be of assistance.
● A friend or two: funx2
● Money: rink daily entrance fee is about 5€, but you can have weekly/monthly passes. And you never know when a Dutch girl may accept your invitation for a beer (“Palm” brew is very much appreciated, where available).


Before starting
Assuming your in-line technique is decent, I wouldn’t recommend to try ice alone by yourself. Of course there are loads of friendly people that would help you in any oval at any time of the day, but my suggestion is to have some expert following you from the very first steps, otherwise the experience could be frustrating. I was extremely lucky to have none the less than Mr. Diederik Hol >> correcting my ridiculous attempts at long track grandeur. Knowing both worlds, he was competent enough to provide just the few advices needed to convert an ungainly in-line donkey into a smoothly gliding speedster (well, almost).

If you are sexy and rich as Pascal Briand or Thomas Boucher, you might even get someone like Mrs. Jildou Gemser, elite coach that can determine after a few laps if you’re Olympic material or a waste bag. Her recommendation for inline racers trying ice: “Forget what you know, as if you’re skating for the first time in your life”. Which I guess is quite wise, but not the other way around... You’ll understand at the end of this long article.

Jildou: forget what you know

The French champions live and train in Heerenveen, and are doing quite well, like their team-mates Alain Gloor and Roger Schneider (both very prominent on the national ice marathon circuit). Other big in-line names you’ll find competing all over the place are Alexis Contin (already top french skater), Tristan Loy (for some time the guy to beat in every race), Cedric Michaud, Arjan Smit, Foske Tamar, Elma De Vries (unbeatable these days), Nadine Gloor and, er… me. It must be said that Chad, Shani Davis, Derek Parra and all the other USA champions (and some Canadian too) used to or still compete in Dutch races.
Mounsier Briand was more specific in his advice: “Take it easy. On wheels the stroke is more a question of powerful and quick cadence. On ice, gliding is capital, so you better do long, efficient strokes that will maximize your push”. Perhaps that’s why it felt so comfortable to me, as I always favoured a long stroke on wheels as well.

I was surprised to find also Valentina Belloni >> in Thialf, but she was not racing, being more into coaching these days. Even more surprising was the revelation that she has a Dutch boyfriend. Yes, it’s factual: a DUTCH boyfriend, believe it or not. The guy must have a HUGE personality, we suppose, otherwise is hard to understand such a choice for a smart and attractive Italian girl.

Vale on the rocks

Get on the ice
Lace and tighten the boots as on your in-lines, then step onto the ice. Maintain the same position as if you were on wheels, and start doing those silly basic exercises rookie skaters do when learning, like short lateral strokes without lifting your blades from the surface, or crossing legs one in front of the other. That’s just for getting a feeling of the boots, the blades and the ice on your feet. You certainly had to adapt to the new conditions, so give it some time!
When you are confident enough, get your back low, flex your knees (90º please), put your arms back and start skating properly. Place your body weight in the middle of the foot, then – and this is core- start working on alternating weight transfer trough the hips to each edge of the blades (sounds like double push, innit? But it’s not!). What, didn’t you noticed? Yes, you have edges on blades too, as on wheels. But on ice these are even more important, as they cut though the surface and provide the necessary support, while the friction is infinitesimal in comparison with asphalt or other rough surfaces dealt by urethane wheels. Let the steel cut the ice for a looooooong time until you observe the momentum is being lost, then start transferring the weight from one edge to the other, and finally push laterally (instead of backwards). Soon you’ll perceive the big divergence with in-lines: the smooth and fast ride for a fraction of the effort, the moving air around your ears as the only noise (plus the clap mechanism, if you have it). No vibration, no bumps, no rocks (I cannot say “no holes”, though…)
And the corners! The technique in cutting corners probably will be the most challenging to put into effect for an in-liner, as it differs on a higher magnitude from the straight strokes of both sports. You need to incline your upper-body at the right angle, sitting on the internal leg, but shoulders should NOT be completely down into the bend like on wheels, because as the speed here is much higher (almost double!) the kinetic forces at play are greater. So the secret is: cut deeper with the inside edges, sit on the left leg, and direct your sight to the outside of the bend as you’re negotiating it, instead of the inside (as if on wheels). As soon as you manage to cut corners properly, you’ll feel the exhilaration that comes when you are actually gathering speed at the end of the bend, with nearly no effort!

You don't agree? Fine, get some more evident discrepancies from our beloved wheels:

Governing bodies with high degree of professionalism in their official ranks.

One transponder saves all your training & racing data for the whole season.

Perfect organization of races.

Referees' crap? Nonexistent here.

Multinational sponsor signs around ice ovals? Check.

TV crews and national newspaper headlines? Check.

Olympic status and all the resources attached to it? Check.

Sexy whole skinsuits, cool eyewear and no hideous helmets.

No scars from falls (although some cuts may appear rarely)

Should I go on with the list? Aw, forget it: the natural conclusion is that compared to its frozen counterpart, in-line speedskating is just the poor redneck cousin living in the countryside.

So what’s all the fuzz about?
All in all, I can sum up the difference between ice and inline skating in a logical comparison like this:
------------- ICE = a good shag <=> INLINE = a latex doll (with 2 holes only) --------------

(A relatively known British racer has recently corroborated at least the right side of the above equations…)

How about racing?

Now you’re talking. To have a glimpse of what the REAL speedskating is, as soon as the blades are reasonably mastered one must try at least to do a race. We already discarded short track; it is wise to avoid Olympic/World Cup style long track competitions too, unless you are completely lacking your sense of ridicule. Being a rookie, even if you are the best in-liner in the world your first efforts will be most probably nothing but an embarrassment: Mr. Hedrick docet! Of course in-liners have it easier, as in Jildou words “they’re generally more powerful, adapt easily and are open minded”. As she said, don’t count on your prowess and skills on in-line skates… For one of the things both sports have in common is that you will never stop learning and improving technique.
So, paired long-track competitions out of the picture (to be honest, they are a bit boring... with the exception of sprints and team pursuits), your best bet has to be one of those ever popular marathons that are held every other day or so in Holland, where you can participate among hundreds of skaters of all skills, ages and gender… pretty much like a WIC stage!
That’s exactly what Mr. Hol judiciously suggested, so he signed us both to the Deventer Friday Night, a 100 km marathon dated Jan. 9th 2007.

Ze race!
We showed up at the fabulous complex in Deventer Colemshat a little late, together with Diederik’s sister and brother in law (both ex-top level cyclists and accomplished speedskaters). As soon as we were ready with skates on, the race started (nobody warms up here, apparently), and I had three objectives in mind:

Deventer: madness on planet ice

● Avoid causing other skaters to fall
● Learn as much as I could
● Avoid being the last one crossing the finish line… or at least not being the first one to abandon the race

Number one troubled me at first, since I was not able to see how hundreds of fast moving people on a 400 mt long – 12 mt wide track- were to avoid collisions. The solution lies in 3 distinctly marked lanes on the rink’s surface: the internal one for missile-like types (that would shout “houuuuw!" whenever slower punters interfere in their path), the middle one for decent skaters, the outside one for guys like me.

While a more than enthusiastic popular orchestra played assorted pop hits in polka key to cheer the crowd up, I positioned myself at the very end of the 300 or so participants, lined up with a couple of smiling grannies, some infants (less scared than me) and a group of joyful bearded guys in cowboy hats, casually dressed and handling large beer jars. I had a toast with them all (Heineken) and prepared to launch.

Krazy Frog Orchestra: lager fuelled

The bang of the starting pistol went off and before its sound faded out, the leading pack passed me away like a hurricane. I took some time to adjust (about 10 km), then started practicing whatever Diederik told me, all by myself. He even had time to approve or shout more counsel every time he overtook me. By the first half hour my left foot was killing me. At first I thought it was the brand new boot, but after some careful considerations, I grasped that bad technique was really the reason for my pain. When I finally managed to do things less excruciatingly, it was time for the first ice conditioning of the track, like an hour and a half into the race, just a third of its estimated duration. Our transponders indicated that my friends were comfortably on the top 50, only 67 laps ahead of me (positioned 142º at the time, so objective number three was already achieved). After a cup of hot chocolate, I boldly decided it was time to choose a pack to get into the middle lane. Yessir!

The fast guys started in the order they ended before ice conditioning, I couldn’t care less. At first I opted for an aged ladies’ group that seemed patient enough, but soon I realized that they were too slow for me. Mind, I was still having troubles with corners, with the left skate emitting shrieking noises at every turn and sliding away… until Diederick told me to sit down on the left leg. From that moment on I started passing people like poles, until I found a suitable rogue pack of misfits, ancient racers and unforgiving maniacs, none of them younger than 50. I entered a space behind a stocky guy to cut all my wind and stood there for miles and miles, without leading a single meter. Hey! What I just said is exactly the same thing I’ve been doing for the last 10 years on every inline race I did! Well, to be honest, it felt much better than that because I found out these skates are more maneuverable than in-lines, allowing me to apply minimal precision thrusts or braking to keep my place on the pack with little effort. Now and then, a guy would fall and pass flying low between our legs on bends: once I just dodged one for a millimeter, the second time the victim came rolling from the bend entrance and started sweeping me away… my first reaction was to jump over him! Fortunately I didn’t slice him, and with great exertion I was able to stay on my feet. The thing was that those guys were falling just about the same place. By then my group was gaining speed and, without being fully aware of it, we started crossing turns on the internal line… which was badly damaged on certain spots by the fast racers' mistreatments.
Just when I was enjoying the most my ride and started yelling “houuuuw!" to slack derelicts crossing my way (this pack started to seem slow too), reality did bite me hard on the arse. My left blade went into a small but deep hole at the damaged turn exit. It really felt like when you hit a big rock with your quads: you come to a full stop and dive away. There and then I discovered another interesting thing about ice speedskating: when you fall you can get hurt and wet too (at least there is no road rash). I quickly got up, but as soon as I tried to push, the impression was that some bones were broken on my left side. Besides, the falling speed must have been rather high because I skated for a couple of laps completely stunned; one of the old timers from my now ex-pack even stopped to ask if I was all right. This kind of courtesy is quite common on ice, unlike in-line races where sometimes there are too many aggressive weirdos that forgot the true sense of these events.
When I was about to go on with my business, I was shocked to see Diederik quitting. He had endured a very hard working week, with an ill baby at home and an important race a few days ahead, so it was a good idea for him to leave. It was almost midnight and while I was deciding what to do, the second ice conditioning stopped us all. If I went on with the race, Diederick would have to wait for me, meaning that he could be at home no sooner than 2 AM. Now, I was never a quitter: the only times I hadn’t finished a race was because they took me away on an ambulance (or a police car). But a friend is a friend. So when I was unlacing my skates, the veterans from my group asked me what the hell I was doing. They showed concern for my spectacular plunge, congratulate me for my endeavor… but derided me for the “sorriest excuse we've ever heard to abandon a race”. I swear they did! So my final position was 140 º, somewhere in the middle ranks. The story of my life.

It was quite an experience, and I would have repeated it the day after, if it wasn’t for the general swelling my left side was subjected to (nothing broken). To be honest, I could do this every week (minus the fall, possibly), especially the sprinter’s version of these open competitions (2x100 mts and 2x300 mts series, for instance).
I’m seriously considering moving to Holland in wintertime… and to Colombia during summer.

Me. With a hood. Yeah.

Back to wheels

After all I said, don’t get me wrong: I’ve been loving skating on wheels forever, and always will be. With the Dutch adventure ended, back at my little dirty local rink, the first time I skated on wheels again felt just like I had cheated on the missus.
To indulge in guilty pleasures is my area of expertise, believe me, and this was no different: after having an affair with a passionate, classy, rich and sophisticated lady, it’s good to get home to your tiring, boring, moody but loving and forgiving better half.
As it is, if you’re serious about any of them, you really have to ensure commitment to one and one only for the time being, as you can never have them both completely and simultaneously... No bigamy here, man.
In conclusion:

● If you’re a talented young inline champion, have a go at it as soon as possible. If a mediocre “never has been” inliner as yours truly was able in a couple of sessions to get a glimpse at the joys that Lady Ice can bring, you can definitely stand a good chance of success and great rewards… But prepare yourself to let go in-lines, and for more hardship and sacrifice than ever. Have you got what it takes?
● If you’re an old quad glory or an occasional racer, on ice you have the chance to feel that same adrenaline charged shot, with lesser dangers for your health and as much fun.
● If you are a rec/fitness enthusiast and want to try something new and exciting while improving your overall skating, this is a ride you’ll never forget.

In any case, with enough resources and adequate training planning, it makes perfect sense to alternate WIC and ice races (be it for fun or true competition), considering there isn’t a better cross-training than this two sports (or rather variations of the same one). So what are you waiting for? Go on and get your blades!
Remember: It may be true that, as Jildou says, all your previous proficiency is of little relevance when you step on a frozen oval for the first time… But when you did try it, please bring back to in-line skating all the benefits gotten on ice: not only a better understanding of technique, but more courtesy and friendship to your fellow skaters, constructive ideas to grow our movement, and perhaps a firmer seriousness about all aspects of your own sport on wheels.

Thanks to:

Majolein, Robin & Stijn Hol, for borrowing their husband/father a few days without formal permission.
Diederik Hol, for all his patience and friendship
Marisa Fregonese, the missus, who made possible this fantastic adventure  

Marcello Bresin


A lot of info about ice speedskating here >>
All the ovals in the world >>  

Berlin '06: race report
FIRS International Coaches' Seminar