© Mike King/CORBIS
One of the northern provinces of the Netherlands, Friesland, has 11 ancient cities loosely separated by a series of canals and lakes. When the weather gets cold enough, the ice gets thick enough to allow for a huge, nationally renowned skating race through each of the cities.
Called the Elfstedentocht (or in English, the Eleven Cities Tour), the race is a roughly 200 kilometer trek across the frozen landscape and takes, at its fastest, over six hours. For the race to occur, the ice must be at least 15 centimeters thick throughout the course -- which is rare. While the tradition of skating from city to city dates back to 1760, the race was not formalized until 1909. But in the last century, the Elfstedentocht has only taken place 15 times and not since 1997.
The infrequency of the event captivates the collective attention of its host nation, resulting in Elfstedenkoorts -- Eleven Cities Tour Fever -- whenever temperatures approach suitable conditions in the Netherlands. Officials decked out in suits and ties take to the news to give a daily ice update. There may be no better evidence of Elfstedenkoorts than 2012's cold Dutch winter: even though a running of the Elfstedentocht had not been announced, hotels in the area have seen a significant uptick in bookings.
Area officials expected more than 15,000 skaters if the race were to happen this year -- plus more than ten million TV viewers. As of this afternoon, the news doesn't look good. The Toronto Star has the latest:
"A day after organizers ruled that ice is too dangerous for the legendary 200-kilometre Elfstedentocht race with 16,000 competitors to go ahead, hundreds of skaters took to the route Thursday, gliding peacefully through the flat, frozen landscape, their skates making a metallic click on the ice."