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In Upstate New York, Lack Of Snow Creates A Paradise For Nordic Skaters

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In Upstate New York, Lack Of Snow Creates A Paradise For Nordic Skaters

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In Upstate New York, Lack Of Snow Creates A Paradise For Nordic Skaters

In Upstate New York, Lack Of Snow Creates A Paradise For Nordic Skaters

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The lack of snow in upstate New York has created a paradise for skaters — most specifically, Nordic skaters. It is a little-known sport in the U.S., involving long blades designed to speed over rough lakes and rivers. NPR meets some Nordic skaters who cover 30 to 40 miles of wilderness ice in a day.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There's a scene at the end of the movie "Frozen" where the characters are skating and celebrating on magical blue ice. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann thought of that as he discovered backcountry Nordic skating, where the ice goes on for miles and miles, taking you deep into the wilderness.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Dan Spada and John Rosenthal on a big lake high in New York's Adirondack Mountains. It looks like polished black marble shot through with veins of white. They're wearing blades nearly two feet long that snap onto cross-country ski boots really different from what you see on figure skaters or hockey players.

JOHN ROSENTHAL: It's a speed skate that's sloped-up at the front so it can go over uneven ground. It just gives you that glide that you can't get with a short skate.

MANN: There’s been a snow drought in the East this year - awful for skiers. But Spada and Rosenthal say it's meant miles and miles of unblemished ice. They've been shooting videos of their journeys that go 30, 40 miles. That chattering sound is their blades as they cruise along at speeds up to 15 miles an hour.

DAN SPADA: Amazing ice - reminds me of Holland.

MANN: Reminds me of Holland, he says. This kind of skating got its start in the Nordic countries of Europe. It can be risky. The men, who are both in their 60s, regularly skirt patches of open water, and Spada did fall through once. While we talk, the ice under us makes an ominous cracking sound.

SPADA: You manage the risk. You reduce it to acceptable levels.

MANN: I flinch, but Spada says we're on a safe spot.

SPADA: It's physics. It's the physics, Brian. There's 12 inches of ice underneath us. It's impossible for...

MANN: Yeah, but, you know, when that sound hits...

They always carry safety equipment, including special grips skaters use to pull themselves out if the ice does give way. But they say once you learn to read ice, this is as safe as any outdoor sport.

SPADA: It's joyful, you know? You get out on this smooth ice that is better than Zamboni ice in some cases, the big sky overhead. You've got this large vista out on this big wild ice. I get muscle strain in my cheeks from smiling so much when I skate.

ROSENTHAL: (Laughter).

MANN: Maybe Nordic skating isn't for everyone, but watching them glide away up the big Lake and out of site, it does look a kind of magic. For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann in New York's Adirondack Mountains.

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