Ice Skating, GPS Watches, and Other Tidbits

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Over the past week or two, the temperatures have gotten a bit chillier here in the Netherlands. While many people assume that the Dutch ice skate to work via canal on the regular, the reality is that’s pretty rare. Not because people don’t skate, but because the water simply doesn’t freeze as often as it did in the past. Next week we’ll have lived in the Netherlands for 5 years, and during that time the ice only froze in the Amsterdam area twice. The last time was in February 2021, when the country had a pretty solid deep freeze for a number of weeks, making skating viable just about everywhere.

In any case, this past weekend things finally got cold enough and the ice thick enough that it was time to skate. What is ‘thick enough’ you ask? Well, I’d argue that the Dutch have a relatively thin definition of that. At least in comparison to most places. However, what’s also left unsaid is that most Dutch canals are actually pretty shallow. This comes from someone who has spent considerable time in them, extracting failed drone tests and action cameras. Short of major shipping waterways, most of the others are maxing out at 2-3 meters in depth (there are 1.2 million Canals in the Netherlands). And many neighborhood canals might only be a meter in depth.

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Also of note is that schools even teach ice safety. My 6-year-old daughter’s Amsterdam public school class had ice safety discussions last week as the ice started forming. They talked about what exact ice thickness levels are considered safe, what to do if you fall in, what friends should do if someone in their group falls in, what to do if you fall in but slide under the ice, etc… I was pretty darn impressed. Obviously, at 6 years the hope is that kids aren’t out there solo without parents. But that by constantly instilling this from a young age, it’s ingrained in culture (and it is). Just like it’s effectively required that all kids get their swim diploma (a multi-tier system), with many schools even doing it.

In my case, people were skating on our neighborhood canals, which is fun in its own right. However, I headed over to the Amsterdam rowing basin, where the Olympic rowing team trains. It’s also basically next door to the DCR Cave, making it a quick pedal. This is one of the best spots to skate around here, because it’s easy to get to, plenty of bike parking, and super long uninterrupted ice. And even a restaurant at the end to grab food/drinks. In my case I parked the bike right next to the ice – as one does in the Netherlands.

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After that, I found a spot to get my skates on. I love how everyone here just leaves their bag of shoes/etc along the side. No real concern of theft. And about half the bags are just either Albert Heijn or Jumbo grocery store bags. I doubled down on that concept. I had my skates in an Albert Heijn grocery bag inside a soft-cloth grocery bag.

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At this point, I readied my watch to record my skating. My plan was a semi-legit workout. Not a balls-to-the-wall workout, but just a nice steady workout skating for perhaps an hour. I also had a few sports tech things to do while out on the ice, as well.

The only problem? Garmin doesn’t actually have any ice skating sport profiles. They have plenty of skiing profiles (downhill, cross country, etc…). But skiing is no more skating, than rowing is swimming.

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Speaking of rowing, they have plenty of profiles for that too, as well as plenty of other watery activities. And in fact, since I’m running last week’s public beta on my Epix, they’ve also got a new sport profile: Tubing:

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This profile isn’t downhill snow tubing (we don’t have any hills here anyway), but rather, the kind of tubing where you connect a rope to a boat and blast around a lake. Except, the water is now frozen. And again, skating is not tubing.

I’ll point out that both Polar and Suunto have both ice skating and inline skating mode (Garmin has neither). Inversely, neither COROS nor Apple have skating. Of course, both Suunto and Polar are Finnish companies, where ice skating is as much a national pastime as sauna usage. Either company missing that sport profile would be laughed at by their peeps. That said, Garmin acquired Firstbeat back a few years ago, and they too are Finnish. I’d have thought by now Team Finland would have succeeded in convincing Team Olathe on this. Instead, we got Disc Golf and Water Tubing.

Now, before we get off my Tuesday Tangent, I’ll point out that there are basically three types of sport profiles on watches, increasing in difficulty/effort below:

A) Sport profiles for categorization purposes (so you can quickly sort/track activity types)
B) Sport profiles for calorie burn purposes (to get the correct calorie burn for an activity type)
C) Sport profiles that track specific sport movements/data/metrics (such as swimming stroke rate or running vertical oscillation)

In general, Suunto and Polar tend to mostly fall in camp A/B above with their larger set of sport profiles. Whereas Garmin more recently tends to fall into group C above, with most sport profiles offering very specific data for that profile (like the mountain bike metrics, or connected eBike metrics, or cross-country skiing power, or jump times in wind surfing, wave lengths in surfing, etc..). Not every sport, but a solid chunk more than their competitors.

Meaning, when Garmin does create a sport profile, it tends to be reasonably well executed in terms of data depth. Even tubing, the target of much probably undeserved teasing, actually does this too. It appears to automatically categorize your ‘runs’, including showing your max speed/time/distance on each run, as well as a seemingly unique data page layout to display all this. It even shows a handy list of your runs. Albeit, all of this neatness is delivered at a time of the year when the water…is…umm…frozen.

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Years ago, I tended to be in the camp that adding sport profiles purely for categorization was silly. However, I’ve slowly changed my thinking on it, and favor both categorization and calorie ones, as well as ones with actual data-driven metrics too.

In any case, I ultimately decided on Skate Ski for my skating. This is still very much a skiing profile, but hey, at least it had the word Skate in it.

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With that, out I went. The length of the rowing basin is 2,200m long, and 118m wide. Supposedly it’s officially 3 meters deep, but in chatting with Olympian rower turned GoPro dropper Niki van Sprang, we both agree it’s closer to 2.0-2.2m deep in the sections we’ve been – given we can occasionally touch the ground. Either way, it’s a great place to get some nice long uninterrupted stretches in.

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And what’s cool is that every 250m there are markers with the distance to the end written on them, hanging over the ice. This is for rowing of course, but it works equally well for skating (or running, when I’m doing intervals next to the rowing basin).

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The ice was pretty darn smooth, with only a couple of tiny cracks here and there. It twanged the weird laser-like ice load shifting twangs as people skated atop it. There were some parents dragging kids on sleds, and one or two with strollers/prams. Some chairs. But mostly people were just doing long steady loops on either speed skates or regular skates.

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In my case, I only had my last-minute Decathlon “here’s what’s in stock” skates from the big freeze two years ago, which are undoubtedly a tiny bit too big. I’d be game for getting speed skates though, but I’d probably want them properly sized.

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For the most part, my speed floated between 20-25KPH at a relatively easy heart rate/pace. And the temperatures were perfect, about -2-5°C/23-28°F, with almost no wind. It was sunny the day prior, but it didn’t fit into the schedule.

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After skating for about an hour, it was time to go back and pick up the kids and bring them out. So I hit save on my watch. In my case I spent about 15 minutes before my last lap fiddling with some sports tech standing still, so obviously my average pace metrics are off. But that’s fine.

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The GPS tracks look super crispy, as expected from this multiband implementation. With the lane markers as noted earlier, I tried to stay in lane 2 on the outbound, and about lane 4 on the return. Obviously, I occasionally had to avoid other people, an impromptu hockey game, or a random hole in the ice. But still, you can see things look consistent:

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With the activity synced immediately to Strava, I was able to go into Strava and change it to Skating, as Strava (like Polar/Suunto), also supports skating – both inline and ice skating. Even skateboarding too.

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Yet finally, it’s worth noting I can actually change the sport profile on Garmin Connect (web or phone) to Skating (within the Winter Sports category):

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That does help with categorization/sorting on Garmin Connect, but it doesn’t push it back to the watch with the correct activity type. Nor does it update Strava/etc (because that sync happens instantly upon upload, and so you can’t update it before it syncs). It’s nice to see it is offered here, but I think people kinda expect these two to be a bit more in sync.

With that, by the next morning ice was in disarray due to a massive warm front that moved in, alongside dumping warm rain. Hopefully though with the early-season low temperatures, it’ll have chilled the water considerably so that next time we get a cold front, it won’t take quite so much effort to get icy canals again. I’d love to get some more skating in, and if the canals are frozen enough, further from Amsterdam like two years ago.

With that – thanks for reading!

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47 Comments

  1. Greg Franks

    You need to swing up to Ottawa when you next come across the pond during the winter to skate on the world’s largest skating rink. Alas, the National Capital Commission requires something like 40cm of ice before it’s open to the public. On the plus side, they do flood it nightly with a custom rag-truck (not quite a Zamboni as it doesn’t scrape the ice).

    The locals strap blades onto cross-country ski boots for cheap, but effective, klap skates. I still have my ancient Vikings (non klap) for the canal.

    I think I copied a profile and then renamed it to Skate on my Fenix 5. Which reminds me, I need to do that on my newer Fenix 6 (I buy last-generation stuff new and save $$$). I forget whether it loads that properly into Connect, or if I had to go and change the category afterwards.

    • Nick Radov

      Copying and renaming an activity profile won’t change the activity type. The activity type is embedded in the underlying FIT file as a numeric code and there’s no way to change it, so when you record an activity and sync to Garmin Connect it will still show up as the old activity type.

  2. TimRules!

    I got skating … there’s a Hockey profile, too …

    • TimRules!

      LOL – just realized that’s skateBOARDING … there is Hockey, though …

    • Michael Adrian

      Hockey does not record GPS data. Been there, done that 😉

    • Eric

      Yeah, it’s really hard to tell that that’s a skateboard on the apple watch. Why wouldn’t that profile include GPS??? I skated on a 400m outdoor track in Japan just after xmas and was very disappointed to find no GPS data on that file. Really bummed as I think I put in close to 40km.

  3. Bikes are simply locked with the built-in wheel lock mechanism, and that’s it? Not fastened to an immovable object? That’s so cool! What a great society in which to live.

    Same with your belongings too, of course. Just wonderful.

    • Yup, that’s correct! Certainly, in busier downtown areas most will lock bikes to static options. But in most other places like parks and such for short durations, it’s just built-in wheel lock.

    • ah

      Do you know if those locks are available in the US?

      I saw them when in Amsterdam last summer and seem like a great idea for times you need only a light deterrent (if such exists in the US).

    • Yup, you can buy them on Amazon, here’s the ABUS lock that is on both our cargo bikes, another e-bike we had for a while, and countless other bikes: link to amzn.to

    • Eric

      That’s the way it is in Japan, too. As an American who has had at least one bike go on a walkabout in the US (despite the Kryptonite lock), I tend to lock my bikes to immobile objects, but for a quick supermarket trip, simply passing the lock through the wheel and frame more than suffices.

  4. Allan

    Where do you add the hockey profile, I can’t find it.

  5. Mark

    Still holding out that there will be an Elfstedentocht before I get too old!

    Once you get some speed skates, I’m hoping there’s a trip to the rink in Hoorn or Rotterdam for a full Polar or Suunto review. The Hoorn rink isn’t too far from the train station

  6. Lee

    Hi there Ray. I may have completely missed this, but I see you have activities on your Epix seemingly in categories (i.e. Winter Sports). How do you enable/setup this?

  7. Niklas

    Hi Ray! You should try long distance ice skating, whitch is quite popular in some parts of Sweden, i.e Stockholm area.
    Cheers!

  8. Craig Long

    I sincerely hope Garmin listens and adds ice skating as an event type. I was thinking just today how useful indoor and outdoor ice skating modes would be, and found your article by chance. Great timing!

  9. V Nt

    Hi Ray, is there a buyer guild this year?

  10. Mike Richie

    Both Ice Skating and Inline Skating are activities that (Garmin) Fit files support. I’m sure there must be Connect IQ apps for ice skating. I use a Connect IQ app for Inline Skating and it transfers correctly to Strava, which supports (fairly active) segments for Inline. On my Apple Watch I use WorkOutdoors which also supports skating. I really don’t understand Garmin’s sports selections. It’s certainly not based on popularity, or they would have a (or multiple) profile for fitness classes.

  11. Neil Jones

    What line do the public authorities take on people skating on frozen waterways? Do they take any active role on advising where/when it’s safe to skate, or does it tend to be more of a vox populi thing that’s just allowed to happen?

    I ask because the UK media was heavily focussed for much of last week on the tragic deaths of four very young children who fell through the ice whilst playing on a frozen pond. Different situations, but it seems that whereas the UK authorities’ approach seems to be ‘never go on ice’, the Dutch attitude seems more of an acceptance, even going to the lengths of safety education. I’m sure accidents must happen in the Netherlands too though?

    • Wouter Schep

      No advice on where it is safe, only general warnings from authorities, plus maybe marking some spots as unsafe. Certainly accidents do happen, but very seldom involving kids.

    • Jan

      The public authorities will in general just monitor what happens and warn you to be careful. When the skating-fever rises, it often results in normally very quiet farm roads to explode with traffic. Municipalities will then organize traffic management, eg. making some roads one-way only, or closing them off entirely when it really gets too busy with parked cars.

      The monitoring of the safety of the ice itself is normally done by the expert volunteers (“ice masters”) of the (450!) local skating clubs. If necessary they mark dangerous spots. The national skating association also puts up recommendations. In case of the short cold period of last week, they suggested to go to man made, sprayed on tracks. And to be careful with ice on open water. Using a translation tool you can read it here: link to knsb.nl

      Of course incidents happen here as well, usually people just get wet. I believe ice safety is also trained in the swimming classes Ray mentions, by jumping through a hole in a tarp op top of the pool, and finding back the hole (assisted by a scuba diver when needed).

  12. Henrik

    Yes, Garmin needs more sport profiles. They don’t need to provide a huge amount of statistics it’s enough if they provide proper categorization of the activity and turn of the registration of steps when it makes sense.

  13. Arno Smit

    I miss the speedskating option in my garmin. But luckily there is the (in the Netherlands) famous Vinksite: link to vinksite.com which you can use registration, analysis and synchronization to strava and trainingpeaks for indoor speedskating (with a mylaps transponder) and it incorporates the ‘natuurijs’ speedskating in the statistics. The maker, Luc Vink also made IQ connect and Ios apps. A must have for speedskaters!

  14. Scott

    I’ve worn my Fenix 5 and HRM for my last couple hockey games. Fun to see the HR data, but it is a bit annoying that we don’t have a Hockey or even skating profile.

    I have thought about wearing a footpod to get speed data, but worry it would get broken by the puck to somebody’s stick… That’s hockey! 🤷

  15. Joost Okkinga

    By the looks of the pictures you were skating on the Bosbaan just out of Amsterdam. I had a very similar experience skating in Ankeveen and Reeuwijk. I setup my Fenix 6X to record my skating track only to find that outdoor skating is not supported. I was as surprised as you are. Thank you for sharing! -Joost

  16. Paul Savage

    Ray. Do you know if any of the watch manufacturers produce a good kayaking profile with decent metrics (stroke cadence, stroke length, speed etc )

    • David

      Hell, the Apple Watch doesn’t even record a TRACK for “Paddling”🙄. Yes, I would like to know where I went, please….

  17. Larry

    Thanks for the blog post. Just did my 1st ice skate of the year on an outdoor rink and was surprised to not find any close profile on my Epix. Now that lakes around here are starting to freeze, I’m going to have to attack this problem as well. BTW – love that they teach ice safety in school. For years now been following something closer to swedish safety protocols. For example skate with testing pole; have ice claws around neck; have numerous people in skating party carry rescue ropes; keep some distance between skaters unless ice is real thick and bring change of clothing. Rather then speed skates maybe take a look at Nordic touring blades. They are like the SUV of skating. link to zandstrasport.nl

  18. Mike S.

    Very strange there is no Skating category. Figure Skating is a popular sport. They have so many odd sport profiles and missed skating altogether!!

    How does one petition Garmin to get a new category added?

  19. Eric Buxton

    I concur with all who want a hockey (indoor and pond option) activity. On a related note even though my wrist HR on my Fenix7x seems to work ok for biking and running it drastically undercounts when I play hockey. So chest strap it is. Ray maybe you could pass the hockey request on to Garmin or perhaps you already have.

  20. David

    Man, I am JEALOUS. There’s a 26 mile long lake here that freezes over every winter, but it’s very, very rare that it’s “skate-able”. Skis or fatbike, yes. Skates? No. ☹️

  21. ReadyKilowatt

    At least Garmin’s skate ski workout logs GPS. Apple Watch’s Cross Country Skiing still doesn’t. No idea why not…

  22. Craig Durling

    Hopefully Garmin is working on skate as an activity type. You would think with outdoor ovals around the world, this type would be more in demand for speed skaters.

  23. Gaspode

    Don’t go for speed skates for just the occasional skate. Instead buy ski boots for skating and skates with ski bindings. Then you can use the same boots for cross country skiing.

  24. Petr

    I’ve tested several ways of recording inline skating with Garmin (custom profile, “Any Activity” app, several “Inline skating” apps) … But the only one that saves the workout with correct classification in Garmin Connect and Strava is this app: link to apps.garmin.com
    Design is bit outdated and there is not much to customize/configure, … but since I just want record my workout and get it synced to servers with minimum need for manual intervention, this one is my “winner”

    No idea about / tip for ice skating app thought 🤷‍♂️

    • Jens

      Hi Ray, I too miss ice skating, but even moreso roller skiing (exists if you use DUTCH(!) as language in your Garmin but translates to xc skate skiing in GC and Strava!)
      I use app AnySport Pro though and it actually works to select ice skate there and it is synced correctly to both Strava and GC surprisingly!

  25. Max

    Hi! I use 3rd party app, namely ‘My App’ for skating on Garmin Fenix 6, works perfect

  26. Dave

    Ray,

    I am American that lives just outside of Amsterdam in Hilversum. In the winter, I skate regularly on the ice oval in Utrecht. I made a new profile on my Garmin Fenix 5X+ (now a new 955) and called it “Schaatsen” and saved it. When I do the up-load it shows “Schaatsen” as the activity and Strava also shows “Schaatsen”. I have basic info like speed, HR, and distance. Because the oval is semi-covered it shows a wonky skate map, but if you skate on the Jaap van Eedenbaan in Amsterdam, it should show good rounds on the oval. Unfortunately I was on the other side of the pond when things were frozen here and I missed all the fun. Skating on the lakes and marshes in Naarden, Aankeveen, and Kortenhoef are the coolest things you can do. I am a member of the Royal Friese Elfsteden Association and keep hoping every year for another chance at my medal. There is always hope.

  27. Mike

    It is absurd Garmin doesn’t have skating as a watch activity profile. I discovered this a while back and just shake my head. Tens of thousands of people go skating in one form or another in Canada daily in the winter. 🤦‍♂️

  28. Thanks Marcel, for mentioning my app Schaatshorloge, link to apps.garmin.com
    I developed this app back in 2016 (or even few years earlier if you include the Pebble version). The main reason was not so much to have the activity profile as Skating, but rather to have my lap times visible when skating. Many speed skaters here in Netherlands have a MYLAPS transponder to record their lap times, but these are only visible on the web. This app makes them visible while skating and also allows you to do more advanced timing such as intervals of several laps.
    But seeing all comments here, and thinking about it, it would be not too much work to adapt the app to also work with skating outdoors, or on an oval without a MYLAPS transponder. That would be less accurate, but more than enough for most people, I guess. Would also be a good opportunity to write all documentation in English as well 🙂