The eleven cities tour madness

Every year when, eh if serious frost sets in, the majority of Dutch people are infected with elfstedenkoorts (eleven cities fever). This fever is caused by the chance (!) an elfstedentocht (eleven cities tour) might be held.

The elfstedentocht is an almost 200 km skating event on natural ice, held in the Dutch province of Friesland and travelling through, you guessed it, eleven different cities. Due to its rarity this unique sports event has gotten to the very bone of every skate-loving (and believe me, there are a lot of them) Dutchman. So let’s shed some light on this remarkable event.

© image:

© image:

The elfstedentocht revealed

As said before, the elfstedentocht is a Dutch skating event of which the first official one was organised in 1909 by Willem ‘Pim’ Mulier. Pim also designed the famous elfstedenkruis (eleven cities cross); a — nowadays highly coveted — proof of a properly finished elfstedentocht.

The necessity for very cold winter conditions, to produce the required 15 cm of ice throughout the course, has resulted in only 15 tours since 1909.
Remarkable detail: Only once the elfstedentocht has been skated three times in a row; in 1940, 1941 and 1942. Exactly, during World War II. That got me thinking and I wonder what it does to you.

The most famous, or better yet infamous elfstedentocht ever was the 1963 edition. This tour was tormented with very low temperatures, strong winds, drifting snow and cracked ice. In 2009 Dutch film director Steven de Jong was inspired to make a film about this epic tour and named it de hel van ’63.

© image: Nederlands instituut voor beeld en geluid

© image: YouTube (click to see actual footage of the 1963 elfstedentocht)

Here’s a little elfstedentocht how to:
Before the tour;
1. Learn how to skate and to kluun (to walk by skate over land).
2. Become a member of the Friese elfsteden vereniging.
3. Hope to be elected when an elfstedentocht is organised (due to a maximum number of participants)

On the day of the tour;
1. Be on time to receive your punch card (on time = in the middle of the night).
2. Skate the course and collect all stamps (there is one stamp post in each city and three mystery ones at secret places)
3. Finish the course before midnight, because that’s when the last stamp post closes.
4. Hand over your punch card and collect your well earned elfstedenkruis.

The future of de tocht der tochten

In the Netherlands, the elfstedentocht is known as De tocht der tochten (the mother of all Tours). This name was given because of:
– The rarity of the tour.
– The distance skaters have to overcome
– The heroic character of the tour

The last elfstedentocht dates back to 1997, leaving us with the need for another one. But chances are we never see another elfstedentocht ever again due to global warming. Even our national weather institute underlines this. Fingers crossed that they are wrong.


Since 1989 an alternative elfstedentocht is held annually at Weissensee in Austria. Weissensee is a mountain lake at almost 1000m altitude. But because this tour is skated by professionals only, it’s nothing more than a race. The real elfstedentocht is driven by both professionals and many thousands of skating enthousiasts, encouraged by even more spectators along the track, making it an (inter)national happening. There is literally nothing similar worldwide.

Other (summer time) alternative eleven cities tours are held by:
– bicycle
– motorcycle
– historic car
– inline-skate
– electrical ship
– kayak
– autoped (no kidding)

But in the end there is only one elfstedentocht, and it appears to have skipped another winter. We didn’t even have an elfstedenkoorts this year.
Oh well, maybe next winter we will once again hear the famous words It Giet Oan (It’s on). When that happens, please bear in mind that our country will be offline for the day.

And if you were wondering: I have never skated the elfstedentocht and I probably never will.


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