7 Tips for Ice Skating in the Alps
There are so many fun things to do in Switzerland, especially in the winter. This year I went ice skating on a frozen lake called "Schwarzsee" in Fribourg.
This was my first time skating on a lake, and it sure took some getting used to.
Here are a few things to keep in mind before you go.
1. Know When to Go
If you're interested in skating on a frozen lake in Switzerland, the best time to go is between December and March. By this time, the ice is thick and safe enough to skate on.
Not every lake in Switzerland freezes over. It often depends on the size of the lake and its altitude. If it's a particularly cold winter, larger lakes such as Lake Zurich will freeze over. This happens once every 50 years on average.
The closer it gets to spring, the less likely you'll find frozen lakes at lower altitudes. For this reason, I recommend ice skating in the Swiss Alps or Pre-Alps (Voralpen).
2. Check the Weather
Be sure to check the weather before you leave, especially if you're heading to the Alps. The forecast might look good a couple days ahead, but this can easily change. That's because weather conditions change rapidly in the mountains.
So it's important to check webcams from the region, even hours before your departure. Many regions in the Swiss Alps have a webcam that you can view online. You can find the webcam streaming live from Schwarzsee here.
Since we stayed at a hotel in Schwarzsee, we could observe the weather locally.
3. Check the ice
Make sure local authorities have checked the ice. If you're not sure whether it's safe enough to skate on, you can ask at the nearest visitor center.
Popular lakes in Switzerland are closely monitored, and you should be informed if it's not safe.
Parts of the lake may be blocked off with an accompanying sign. It's important to read the sign and be aware of any danger. Only skate in the designated area!
Since it was my first time on a frozen lake, I walked slowly and carefully onto the ice. Surprisingly, it wasn't slippery at all. That's because the ice was covered in snow towards the lake's edge.
Many people were walking their dog or taking a leisurely stroll on the lake. From a distance, it was hard to recognize the lake at all. It looked like a giant park, blanketed in snow.
As we made our way around the lake, I started to notice cracks in the ice. We could even hear movement beneath the surface, which sounded like a distant roll of thunder.
At first, I was a bit nervous. However, cracks don't necessarily mean the surface will break. There are other visual clues to look for, such as color. If you spot dark patch, the ice may be thinner in this area.
Nevertheless, I kept my distance.
A safe thickness for activities such as walking, ice skating, and cross-country skiing is at least 4 inches (roughly 10 centimeters) of ice, but the thickness can vary in different parts of the lake. For this reason, parts of the lake may be unsuitable for certain activities.
4. Dress Appropriately
You'll want to dress in layers for ice skating. It's important to bring a thick jacket, but you might ditch it if you work up a sweat.
It's best to wear waterproof pants if you suspect you might fall. Since I wasn't skating very long, I wore a pair of casual pants. Just in case, I had a spare pair of clothes across the street at our hotel.
Here's what I recommend bringing:
- Polarized sunglasses
- A winter hat or earmuffs
- A warm jacket with layers underneath
- Thick socks (so the boots hurt less)
- Waterproof gloves
- Waterproof pants (mainly for beginners)
5. Lace Up Properly
Okay, rookie mistake—when I first stepped onto the lake, my ankles had no support, and it was impossible to skate. That's because I didn't lace up properly!
Make sure you tie the laces extra tight, especially around the ankle. Then double knot the laces and you're good to go!
I rented my skates from Side Cut Sports, just in front of Schwarzsee. It only cost 5 CHF per hour to use the skates.
6. Go Slow
Up until now, I had only been to indoor ice rinks in Switzerland, so ice skating on Schwarzsee was quite an adjustment.
Look at all the snow in my way!
To make things a little easier, I cleared a small path in the snow and poured a bottle of water on the ice. After a while, I was able to skate without stumbling.
Next time, I will bring a pair of skates with sharper blades. Perhaps this will help me navigate the rough patches.
7. Bring a Buddy
Depending on how well the ice is maintained, frozen lakes may have uneven parts and clumps of snow in the way. Unlike artificial ice rinks, there will be no handrail to hold. Holding my husband's hand was the best alternative!
As a beginner, you will be glad to have a buddy. Skating on a frozen lake is more difficult than skating on an artificial ice rink in Switzerland.
Now that you've got the hang of it, have fun!
If you're as uncoordinated as I am, you may have difficulty on ice skates. Just give it time and don't become frustrated.
If all else fails, find the nearest bar and have a drink. Cheers to trying!
Where to Go
Schwarzsee is a wonderful place for ice skating in Switzerland. Located in the canton of Fribourg, it boasts scenic backdrops of the Swiss Prealps (Voralpen).
If you would rather watch your friends or family ice skate, you can take a helicopter tour over the lake instead.
Ice skating on Schwarzsee is dependent on the weather, so check the "Schwarzsee Tourismus" website for more information. Typically, the lake is open for ice skating from December through mid-March.
Where to Stay
Unless you live locally, I recommend staying in a hotel for the weekend. This way, you can just roll out of bed and wake up by the lake. We chose Hostellerie am Schwarzsee, which had a fantastic view of Schwarzsee from our room.