On Ice Again: a Nordic Skating Tour from Tampere to Virrat

Tampereen valot öiseltä Näsijärven jäältä, jossa on lumilaikkuja.

A Nordic skating tour from Tampere to Virrat (or vice versa) has been one of my skating dreams. I have done this trip in parts (part 1, part 2) in 2019, but never in one day. And truth speaking, it remained a very distant dream even four years ago. The route itself is very familiar to me: I used to work aboard steamboat Tarjanne in the beginning of the 2000s and sailed the route almost 400 times.

Show on larger map The lake north of Tampere is Lake Näsijärvi and Virrat locates in the northern tip of that water area. (Zooming in helps you to find it.) The full gps track is located at the bottom of this post.

The first open water areas of our journey (Näsiselkä, Koljonselkä, Myyrysselkä and part of Vankavesi). Clicking the map opens it and allows you to zoom it in more. Copyright: Maanmittauslaitos, avoin maastokarttaaineisto. Downloaded 1/2023.
This winter had been extremely difficult to me regarding any sporting activities thanks to symptoms that have remained from Covid-19. Luckily, treatments and rehabilitation have slowly helped me to recover. Therefore, it was a perfect time to see, how my body would react to some real Nordic skating. The longest tour before this one, had been a 63 km one on a perfectly smooth ice with some good tailwind. I was quite uncertain how this tour would affect me.

The Never-Ending Wait for The Perfect Ice

On Lake Näsijärvi (as on the other big lakes of Finland) the ice conditions are quite challenging for a long end-to-end skating tour as the lake gets frozen in the different parts of the lake in different time. When the large open water areas in the southern Näsijärvi are frozen, the northern areas are normally covered with snow already. Therefore, it is quite rare that all the lake is suitable for a Nordic skating tour at the same time.
The week in the middle of January 2023 had been very warm and rainy. As a consequence, the snow had melted and there had been some wonderful days of skating in the southern parts of Lake Näsijärvi. A few millimetres of water on the surface of black ice gets the friction as low as it can get making skating feel like flying. Furthermore, the satellite pictures had showed that even the northern parts would be ‘skateable’. On Sunday, we decided with my friend, Leo, that we would make a tour on Tuesday. But the final destination was still not spoken out to avoid any “jinxing” even if we both had thought of skating all the way to Virrat.

On Monday, we checked the site of Finnish Society of Nordic Skaters (the website covers actually the Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway and Finland). It is a place where members report their observations of ice conditions and write reports of their tours. One group of skaters had been on the northern areas of the lake system on Monday and reported some decent ice there. Perhaps little bit soft as it had been quite warm but yet skateable through puddles of water.

However, the temperature began to drop under zero on Monday evening and it even rained some slush which changed into snow later in the evening. There had been another group of skater skating in the southern area of Lake Näsijärvi near Tampere in the evening and they reported that the slush had stuck on ice and not melted in the puddles of water. Damn. Yet, we decided to have try next morning even if the change of weather had somewhat disappointed us. One can never ask for a perfect weather or then the wait might become quite long.

Difficulties on the First Stretch

Leo picked me up with his car after a night’s sleep and eating a bigger breakfast than I would normally eat. We left the car at Kaupinoja which is also a starting point of a tour skating lane that is plowed every year on Lake Näsijärvi. I started recording the route with my Polar watch at 6:55 when the it was still dark. Despite the darkness, we could already see from the shore that the slush and snow of the yesterday had done severe damage to the fine fields of black ice that had existed before this sudden change of temperature. The first metres of skating confirmed this: smooth black ice had changed to large patches of frozen slush. There were still some black ice between those patches but in the middle of the first open water areas (“selkä” in Finnish, “fjärd” in Swedish) (Näsiselkä), even those areas of black ice disappeared. Everything that was left was frozen slush that had quite a massage effect on the soles of our feet. The headlights were much needed to avoid falling while skating through the patches.

Tampereen valoja Näsijärveltä katsottuna
The lights of Tampere after 10 minutes of skating. The patches of frozen slush can easily be seen in this picture.
The pace was kept quite moderate due to conditions of ice (and of myself). The patches slowed us down, but luckily the tailwind helped skating. Somewhere between the two larges open water areas (Näsiselkä and Koljonselkä) we encountered first areas of ‘surface ice’. These areas form when there is a puddle of water on ice that freezes incompletely. There might be 10 centimetre of water which only has an ice cover of one or two centimetres. When one skates onto such area, the result is often a fall, when the upper body wants to continue it flight through air but feet are stuck on surface ice.
And that’s exactly what happened this time as well: I fell and picked up my things from  ice. Luckily, the puddle was only some centimetres deep (as expected these would be), so I didn’t get much wet. Leo managed to evade the ‘trap’ by skating after me. For safety reasons, we normally skate in a file keeping a decent distance in uncertain conditions. After this fall, it was time to take a first break and have some tea. While sipping the tea, we discussed that if the conditions stay like this, we cannot reach the other end of the lake on one day.
Taulasalon laivalaituri, jossa retkiluistelija otsalampun kanssa
The first break at Taulasalo quay.

Hope at Dawn?

The rising sun and increased lightness seemed to raise our mood as well. At the same time, the ice conditions got better. The snow clouds had avoided this area previous eveingn and wind had even taken away the few snowflakes that had fallen. We suddenly found ourselves on large area of very smooth black ice with a nice tailwind that brought us to the very northern end of this lake area. Even if the following open waters were taking us back to basics (i.e. skating on a frozen slush), this larger area of nice smooth ice gave us hope. Perhaps there would be even better areas further north!

Retkiluistelija keskellä järvenselkää Näsijärvellä
Encountering areas of smooth ice for the very first time on this tour.

The sound of Unnekivi proved to be the first place where we had to take our skates off. The currents had been strengthened by the week of rain and ice had been melted by those currents. It was only four days earlier we had skated through this sound following the shores but now it was totally impossible. Well, walking is an esseantial part of long Nordic skating tours so it was not a big deal. And on this route, there would be many legs more to use one’s legs as there are strong currents flowing through narrow sounds.

For example, we had already decided to go around all the area of Murole canal (1854) and Murole rapids. Instead of skating on narrow sounds, we chose one longer walk to reach larger water areas east of the canal area. After skating about three and a half hours and 42,2 kilometres (exactly the kilometres of a marathon—quite a coincidence) we took our skates off and started walking.
Retkiluistelija Solkiankarin loiston edustalla Näsijärvellä pilvisenä päivänä.
Skating against the wind near Solkiankari beacon. We are nearing the Murole canal after 40 km of skating.
The second part of our journey. Clicking the map opens it and allows you to zoom it. Copyright: Maanmittauslaitos, avoin maastokartta-aineisto. Downloaded 1/2023.

Call of the Road

A fine gravel road took us over the hill that was separating the skateable lake areas. We also found a nice spot to have a lunch break on the top of the hill. It was about a time tom eat something having travelled several hours. This time, I had brought me a food thermos filled with decent food instead of some pieces of bread which I normally have with me when skating on the shorter tours. Eating and resting one’s legs for a while worked wonders and we both felt much refreshed and it was easier to continue. After one and a half kilometres walk we arrived to the shore of the lake again.

Hiekkatie Muroleen metsissä
The gravel road we took over the hill.
Getting back on ice again was a whole different story this time… The road we were taking and that was marked on the map went straight to a yard of a cottage. Even if there is the concept of Everyman’s Rights in Finland (and in the Nordics), it doesn’t cover walking through the private yards. Thus, the only option was to cross a small marsh/swamp area to get back on ice without making a huge round. It was quite easy to guess how that would go even before one went there. But I had a try. First, I got my feet into the swamp. Then, trying to go on all fours leading to all fours being wet. In that point, I decided that what the heck, I will just walk over and so I did. Leo, as a wiser man, found a bit better route on the fringes of the marsh and kept his feet dry. For my part, I turned my socks’ heating on and put on the neoprene boot covers as well. The Ursuit MPS dry undersuit took care of the rest.
Luistelija Ruoveden vesillä sileällä jäällä
Excellent ice on Ohrionselkä after the walk.
Retkiluistelijalla sileällä jäällä harmaana päivänä
Author enjoying the smooth ice. Picture: Leo Kinnunen.

Despite this wet show in the marsh, the choice of route was a success: as we found out, the currents had kept almost all the small sounds free of ice so by choosing another route we would have had to make several other landings. And ice on the next open water, Ohrionselkä, really rewarded us: smoothest ice so far. With such conditions, we arrived quickly to the next landing of our tour. One kilometre of walking, one of skating through a smaller lake and 200 metres more of walking and we were back on bigger waters. The landings and getting back to ice were bit more successful this time despite the wet shorelines due to heavy rains in the previous week.

Märkää rantahetteikköä ja retkiluistelija miettimässä, miten pääsee kuivin jaloin rantaan.
Leo is trying to find a better route to the shore. I had already soaked my skating boots in the previous landing so I did not care that much anymore which is evident from my track.

Open Waters of Ruovesi

Lake Näsijärvi is located in the area of five municipalities: Tampere, Ylöjärvi, Ruovesi, Mänttä-Vilppula and Virrat. We had already crossed from Tampere to Ruovesi at our first landing near Murole canal. Now, it was time to skate through vast water areas of Ruovesi. The first open water area, Jäminginselkä, was quickly crossed. We arrived to the sound of Miestamo where we found iceless parts, some cracks in ice and slippery, rocky shores through which we had to walk.

Retkiluistelija ylittämäsä railoa Miestamonsalmessa Ruovedellä.
Leo crossing a crack in ice at Miestamo. Iceless water can be seen in the background.

After passing the tricky parts at Miestamo, there was only one open water area more before our route would turn north again. Now, we had been traveling more to northeast. Skating through the open waters of Ruhalanselkä was supposedly the last longer stretch where the wind would be more or less straight headwind. This knowledge gave us strenght to pass the not-so-fine ice and six m/s headwind until arriving to the Kauttu canal (1885). After such a hard leg, it was time to have a break once and have something to eat an drink. From now on, the wind would be more favourable for the rest of the tour.

Mies kiipeää kanava kivetystä ylöspäin
Climbing up the edge stones of Kauttu canal.
Kauttu canal
Kauttu canal (1885). No locks in this one.

We passed the atelier Kalela (1895) of the Finnish artist, Akseli Gallén-Kallela (1865–1931) and the centre of Ruovesi while skating on some very smooth ice with a strong tailwind until arriving to the next sound, Korpulanvuolle, where we had to take our skates off and pass the sound from the western side. In some years, the sound is skatable but this year the rains had kept the currents strong. The walk was only 200 metres, so not much to complain about.

A Nordic skater on a smooth black ice.
Passing by the village of Ruovesi from the east.

Ice on the next open water area, Mustaselkä, was quite a surprise—a negative one this time. There was surface ice all over the place with constant creaking sound coming from ice under the blades. Sometimes the ice cover was bearing you, sometimes not. Makes one to keep speed low as one never knows. This time all the surface was the same so it was not possible to separate the worse areas from the good ones. Luckily, it was a short leg before we arrived to the steep cliffs of Syvinkisalmi and climbed up and down before reaching the other side of the sound.

Syvinkisalmi sound (and the bridge over it) seen aboard the steamboat Näsijärvi II in 2012.

After such a climbing effort one was quite ready for another break with some tea anbd sandwiches. While sitting there, we googled the opening hours of the cafe at Visuvesi which was waiting for us 15 kilometres away. Unfortunately, it was closed for all winter. At least the local minimarket would be open, so reaching that would be our next goal.

Retkiluistelijat Tarjannevedellä
Smooth ice and tailwind make Mikko a happy boy. About 80 kilometres of tour done at this point.

Tarjannevesi (sometimes also called Tarjanne) is one of my favourite spots on this route. Stark scenery, not too many cottages and tree-covered hills make it a fine place. This time, also smooth ice could have been added to the advantages of the place. Here we recorded some of the highest speeds on this tour with a strong tailwind and passed the 11 kilometres of open water in 35 minutes. As normally, such hubris was followed by a certain nemesis. About hundred metres before the sound of Kivisalmi (near Visuvesi), we found a surface ice area that was simply impossible to skate. Instead, we found ourselves walking in the five centimetres deep puddle with our skates. Luckily, it was only a hundred metres but still I recorded some of the highest heart rates of this journey.

Retkiluistelija palaamassa jäälle kapean jääkannaksen kautta.
Leo gets back to ice through a ‘neck of ice’ near Visuvesi.

The Last Leg: from Visuvesi to Virrat

Despite the surface ice paradise, we managed to make it to Visuvesi population centre. It has traditionally been famous for its industrial roots (e.g. sawmills and a plywood factory) and even from the Finnish Championships of Kissing. For us, it represented a well deserved break from skating and a possibility for some tourist shopping in the forms of some sports drink and lemonade. We had used much of our drinks so replenishments were much appreciated. At Visuvesi, we also discovered that we had used most of the daylight as well and took our headlights back in the use from the backpacks.

Wind was once more helping us even if we were heading almost straight to the west for now. And fortunately we had that wind as after Visuvesi we encountered an area of three to four kilometres of surface ice that was just and just bearing our weight. (And to be clear, there’s bearing ice under the surface ice, so no danger of falling through ice there.) With such a wind, it was easy just to carefully use our skating poles to get forward standing in two blades, not risking to skate on one blade (as normally).

Karhusaaren loisto iltamaisemassa Vaskivedellä.
The beacon of Karhusaari near Näntönsalmi sound. Unfortunately I did not get the pic with the light on.

After a while ice got better and we soon found ourselves in the “highway” to Virrat as we used to call the Koronselkä open water area on the steamboat. It is about five kilometres straight lane lined by the rocky shores. The lights in the village of Koro were giving us the bearing. Occassional creaking sounds of surface ice were keeping us alert in the darkness but this time these areas were quite rare.

Virtain Kalettomanlahti talviyönä. Retkiluistelija otsalampun kanssa kaukana.
The ‘home straight’ and the road on ice at Virrat. Can you find Leo in the picture?

The Final Exertion

Not much was left now to skate. Yet, we still had to change skating to orienteering in the dark in order to pass the two sounds, Hampainen and Toltaa, through forest. All the water that comes from the upper waters flows through these sounds, so it’s really rare they get some ice at all. But it was only 500 metres of walking in the snowy forest, then 1,5 km of skating on Vaskiselkä before walking for 400 metres and finding ourselves at the last open water area, Härkösselkä. We could already see the lights of Virrat.

Virtain Kalettomanlahti talviyönä. Retkiluistelija otsalampun kanssa kaukana.
The ‘home straight’ and the road on ice at Virrat. Can you find Leo in the picture?

In the northern end of Härkösselkä, we also saw that Artsi is at home. He was a regular customer at the steamboat Tarjanne so we decided to see if he sees the signalling with our headlights. He did, came out and brought us something to drink after hearing about our tour. (Thank you Artsi once more!) We had a brief discussion as well, but only brief as time was flying and we still had to eat at Virrat before continuing our journey back home.

As one could guess, the final 1,5 kilometres of skating was something to remember. Strong headwind and skating on a surface ice in 10 cm deep water puddles. Heart rate rising to record numbers. Finally we found some bearing parts near the road on ice and near the shore and managed to make it to the port of Virrat. Phew.

Retkiluistelija jäätien alussa. Kuvassa myös nopeusrajoituskyltti.
Leo at the finish line. It was easier keeping to the (summer) speed limits here thanks to horrible ice.

It was time to change the wet merino shirt to a dry one, put on the down jacket and order a taxi to take us to the centre. Luckily, the taxi came quick (not a certainty anymore in Finland) and the driver was very friendly. We could leave our backpacks to his car while we went to eat in a local pizzeria. After the ‘dinner’, he came to pick use again and took us the 45 minutes (53km) away to the train station at Parkano. It’s pity that the public connections in the Finnish countryside are quite few. There’s no public connection from Virrat to Tampere in the evening anymore and if we had missed our train at Parkano at 8 pm, we would have had to wait for the next one until 2 am.

Parkanon asemarakennus ja sen edessä luistelija.
Waiting for the train at the Parkano “station”.

The train ride was fast, only 45 minutes. We had reserved a compartment for us in order to spare our fellow travellers of our skating scents of 117 kilometres. The compartment was in the first class, though, and we had to pass all the business travellers to get there. Our equipment seemed to cause some astonishment…After arriving to Tampere, we still had to take the tram to my home, then drive to Kaupinoja to get Leo’s car back until we could call it a day.

Did such a hard work pay off some might ask. The answer would be yes. We both skated this “royal” tour of Lake Näsijärvi for the first time. Now it is done and there’s no more “need” to wait for the optimal circumstances. This time, the conditions were not optimal but of course, they could have been much worse, too. Despite the tailwind, the tour took us 11 hours 40 minutes and we made 13 landings. According to my Polar watch, I spent over 6 700 kilocalories travelling this tour. Quite a day!

And there are still many other dreams concerning Nordic skating even if this one is done…

Our Tampere-Virrat Tour on a Map. (Made with GPX Animator 1.7.0. Map copyright: Maanmittauslaitos.)