Seasoned ice skater explains how to safely take your adventures to higher, breathtaking altitudes

By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer

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Fewer sights could appear more tempting to a seasoned ice skater than a surface as smooth as glass.

It was at heights of about 10,000 feet above sea level that Laura Kottlowski’s passion for gliding over massive, frozen sheets of ice was born. The Colorado-based creative director, photographer and 28-year ice skating veteran discovered her first high-altitude skating rink on a snowshoe hike with friends in 2009.

“I would be going on these long snowshoes and see this huge, frozen lake and wish that I’d have my skates with me,” Kottlowski said.

The next time she went snowshoeing, she brought her skates along and hasn’t looked back since.

For Kottlowski, high-alpine skating over expansive sheets of ice among breathtaking scenery is a more freeing form of the sport that ups the cool factor for her.

Laura Kottlowski - High-alpine skating

(Photo/Christian Murdock)


“I’m up on this high-altitude lake that it took me four to five hours to [reach], sometimes more, and I’m on the top of the world,” she said.

She’s skated over Colorado’s Pacific Tarn, the highest lake in the United States, which sits at an elevation of 13,420 feet.

Kottlowski’s unique hobby is almost as untouched in the States as the surfaces on which she skates.

Skating at higher altitudes is more popular in Scandinavian countries than in the U.S., but with the help of social media, fellow hikers and skaters have begun following in Kottlowski’s footsteps and skate marks.

Many of her high-alpine skating exploits are captured by friend and photographer, Marisa Jarae.

“The more that we post photos together, I’ve been seeing more people going out and hiking with their skates trying to repeat some of our adventures or create their own,” Kottlowski said.

“It definitely wasn’t really a thing, and still really isn’t, but it’s something that I’m passionate about,” she added.

Skating safely at higher altitudes

While she’s glad to see high-alpine skating catching on, Kottlowski doesn’t advise the experience for a novice skater.

“I would definitely say if you’re pretty seasoned or if you’ve got a few years under your belt, then this is something that you could try,” she said.

“[If you’re a beginner], skating on rugged ice could be pretty dangerous," she added. “All sorts of bad things could happen, so I [wouldn’t encourage] skaters who are first starting out to try this.”

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Risks include tripping and causing a head injury, which would be especially dangerous while located miles away from help, and falling into frigid waters under cracked ice.

The times to be most cautious of thin ice at higher altitudes are early and later in the seasons, Kottlowski said.

The ice is normally at least a foot thick at midseason, she said.

Skaters will want to take note of signs pointing to unsafe skating conditions, such as wet or mushy and yellow or discolored ice.

Kottlowski also recommends the “rock test.”

She advises choosing a rock about the size of two fists and throwing it up in the air, watching it land on the ice.

If the rock hits the surface, bounces away and leaves only a small mark, the ice is thick enough for skating safely.

“If it plops and it sticks, then that’s around two inches, and that’s where you have to be careful,” Kottlowski warned.

Skaters should also pay attention to the sound of the ice during rock tests.

The thinner the ice, the louder it will sound as it cracks. Thicker ice produces a deeper sound as the rock makes contact.

At lower elevations, she recommends wearing a life preserver and bringing along ice picks.

“If you were to fall in, not only would you have your life preserver to keep you afloat, but you have these ice picks to help pull yourself out of the hole,” she said.

Thinner ice isn’t much of a concern when skating at higher elevations, she added.


For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.

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