Fairlee — Ice skating on Vermont's Lake Morey is far more than circling around a makeshift rink. It's an expedition — a 4.5-mile (over 7 kilometre) one, around the frozen lake's perimeter.
It's said to be the longest Nordic skating trail in the United States, offering wintertime entertainment and exercise through a sport that originated in Europe and is popular in Scandinavia.
Nordic skates have cross-country ski-like boots with long blades that attach to the bottom. They're designed to handle ungroomed ice, like frozen lakes, rivers and canals, and they take some getting used to.
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Lake Morey Resort, located in Fairlee near the New Hampshire border, provides the special Nordic skates to overnight guests and rents them out on weekends to visitors. But anyone can show up any time to try the lake trail with any type of skates.
Peg Devine drove more than two hours from Groton, Massachusetts, to Nordic skate with her daughter. Having speedskated as a kid, and even skated on the canals in Holland, she has long dreamed of skating at Lake Morey.
"To be able to go out on a big long stretch with all the mountains, the blue sky ... sunshine, and you just skate and you just fly," she says after returning from a lap. Devine plays hockey but says the experience was not like indoor ice: "There's bumps, but you get patches and you enjoy it and just go."
To keep the trail clear of snow, the resort uses a tractor equipped with a large rolling brush or plow. It can take anywhere from 20 minutes to more than an hour to skate around the lake.
The bottom sides of Nordic skate blades are flat-ground rather than hollow-ground, which creates inside and outside edges. That flat bottom allows skaters to cover more irregular ground — like bumps and snow — without edges catching on imperfections in the ice. The skates also provide more glide per stride and better stability than hockey skates, says Ben Prime, owner of the Nordic Skater shop in Newbury, New Hampshire.
Some Nordic skaters use ice poles while they skate for stability and also to test the thickness of the ice. Some even bring ice claws — two small ice picks attached by a cord around the neck — to help pull themselves out if they fall into a hole in the ice.
Ice conditions frequently change and the resort posts periodic ice reports on Facebook. All the skating is at your own risk.
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On a recent January weekend day, when temperatures hit the upper 40s, skaters ranged from couples to groups of friends to families. Even a few leashed dogs joined the fun.
But the sunshine and warm temperatures did turn the ice rough in some sections. A Wells River, Vermont, family that regularly skates there and is equipped with their own Nordic skates rated the ice an 8 out of 10 in some sections, and a 5 out of 10 in others. "There were days we were here last year, or was it two years ago, and the whole lake was like glass," said Emily Wynes.
Ron Robichaud who made the two-hour drive from Jackson, New Hampshire, hadn't skated in about 30 years before trying it. "This is a bucket list item for me," he says, after returning from a loop around the lake. "It's a lot of fun ...We're really enjoying it."
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