The tour, almost 200 km in length, is conducted on frozen canals, rivers and lakes between the eleven Frisian cities: Leeuwarden, Sneek, IJlst, Sloten, Stavoren, Hindeloopen, Workum, Bolsward, Harlingen, Franeker, Dokkum and finally again Leeuwarden. The tour is not held each year, mostly due to the fact that the Dutch winters do not permit skating on natural ice every year. Adding to that, the tour currently features about 15,000 amateur skaters taking part, putting high requirements on the quality of the ice.
There are likely to be points along the route where the ice is too thin to allow mass skating, or where there is some other problem (e.g., there is actually an organisation "Committee Elfsteden Nee" that is opposed to the race and sabotaged the route 1997 by laying salt on the ice at one place). These are called "kluning points" (from West Frisian klúnje) and the skaters walk on their skates to the next stretch of good ice.
In 1997 ice-transplantation was introduced to strengthen weak places in the ice, for instance under bridges.
Since the Elfstedentocht is such a rare occurrence, its declaration creates excitement all over the country. The day before the race many Dutch flock to Leeuwarden to enjoy the party atmosphere that surrounds the event. The evening before the race called the "Nacht van Leeuwarden" (Night of Leeuwarden) becomes a giant city-wide street party (Frisians, who have a reputation of surliness, are said to thaw when it freezes). At the day of the race most Frisians stay home to watch the race on television.
History. The Elfstedentocht was already part of Frisian tradition, when in 1890, Pim Mulier conceived the idea of an organised tour, which was first held in 1909. After this race, the Vereniging De Friesche Elf Steden (Association The Frisian Eleven Cities) was established to take care of the organisation. Since 1909, the tour has been held 15 times. The often cold weather and harsh conditions have helped to make the race a major event in the Netherlands, where many will travel to Friesland to see the tour or watch the competition skaters on television. After the competition skaters, some 16,000 amateur skaters will also attempt to complete the race.
The eleven Frisian cities. This is the route of the Elfstedentocht when it is skated in a clockwise direction, as in 1985, 1986 and 1997. The distances between the cities can vary slightly, depending on the exact route; those given here are those of 1997.
(*) After shared wins in 1933 and 1940, when the leaders at the front decided not to compete but join hands and cross the line in unison, this practice was forbidden by the organisation. Jan van der Hoorn, Aad de Koning, Jeen Nauta, Maus Wijnhout and Anton Verhoeven did however ignore this rule when they were the first to cross the finish line. They were disqualified, and no winner was declared.
People from other places in Holland came over to Friesland to see the skaters.
In the year 1986 the Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander participated in the Elfstedentocht, under the name W.A. van Buren.
If you combined the endurance demands of the New York Marathon with the grueling climate conditions of the Alaskan Iditarod, you'd get a sense of the Dutch ice-skating race called the Eleven Cities Tour. Known as the Elfstedentocht in Dutch, the one-day tour is an obsession for its 16,000 participants and the millions more who follow it worldwide. The event is held in The Netherland's northern province of Friesland but only in those years when the ice freezes over the 124-mile track of lakes and canals that makes up the route. The last tour took place January 4, 1997.
When the next race will be held is anybody's guess. And it's exactly that unpredictability that makes the Eleven Cities Tour so highly anticipated. One caveat for foreigners: Racers must be members of the Elfstedentocht Union, an organization whose membership of 16,000 was capped over a decade ago. That leaves anyone except a Nederlander with little chance to participate. Roelof.