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Could climate change wipe out the the Netherlands' Elfstedentocht.
Since then, skating fans have been disappointed every year by warm winters that have raised doubts about the future of the race.
Visser’s report predicts that current levels of global warming will mean that the Friesland ice is only likely to reach the thickness of 15 centimeters (almost 6 inches) required by the race rules once every 18 years, compared to once every 7 years over the previous century.
By 2050, based on a worst-case scenario for continued global warming, he warns there will only likely be a chill big enough for the Elfstedentocht once every 180 years.
“The chances for an Elfstedentocht in the Netherlands will become very small,” Visser said.
Wieling is less pessimistic. He places his hopes on a repeat of the cold snap that hit the Netherlands last winter that allowed people to take to the ice in much of the country, even if the canals of Friesland did not freeze enough for Elfstedentocht standards.
“We didn’t have any winter for 10 years in a row, so a lot of people thought there will never be any ice skating again,” Wieling reflected.
“Now we know that it can still freeze and that it’s still possible to have ice," he said. "Of course the global warming has an influence, it means we won’t have 15 races this century, but let’s say it will be 10 or something like that.”
That will be enough to keep the love of skating going from one generation to the next, Wieling said.
“Last winter we saw a huge group of children skating that had never been on the ice in 10 years. All the ice skates were sold out in a couple of days,” he said in an interview in the Friesland capital of Leeuwarden. “We do need winters of course, if we don’t have winter for 20 years, then nobody believes that it will happen any more.”
Meanwhile, the Dutch are keeping memories of Elfstedentocht glories alive with a movie based on the epic 1963 event, which is due to hit cinemas here in December. Meanwhile, the museum at Hindeloopen still has space to honor the heroes of the next “White Hell” whenever the race is held.