Backcountry skating, or Nordic skating, originated in the Scandinavian countries, and requires very little special equipment to begin, just some skates, maybe a lifejacket, picks, a ski pole and a sense of adventure.
In the Adirondacks, there's no shortage of lakes and ponds that freeze in winter. According to local nordic skaters, there are days of biting headwinds, bumps and cracks, the result of an enormous lake expanding into the air above. There are days where the smooth, black ice spreads miles into the distance, the sun shines and the wind is always at your back. There are days when the ice is like magic, when ice roses bloom and every glide forward is perfectly in-sync. Those are the hero days.
The Swedes skate in a line with their poles, and on a perfect day, you can leave your poles, clip into your boots and you feel like a hero.
How do you know when the ice is safe to skate on? When it's thick enough so you don't fall through. Or, to be more scientific, grab your pole and one poke to break through means don't go, two to three pokes means you're good.
You can skate through quite a bit of snow if there's good ice underneath. Nordic skaters love black, smooth, perfect ice and we're always in search of it, but even lousy ice in the middle of nowhere doesn't have a lift line – and it's pretty magical.
It can be a leisurely activity, but it's more of an endurance sport. It's exciting. Sometimes when the wind comes up, it's wild.
You can also try out ice biking if you get the notion!