Luleå is famous for its ice track that encompass the city, spanning from one harbour to the other and then out into the Bothnian archipelago. Tourists as well as locals, enjoy the ice track daily while walking, sled kicking, running, cycling, skating and sometimes even horse riding. This is the story of how it came to be, of how Jan the Iceman and a group of Dutch ice-skating enthusiasts found their paradise.
The reason for there being an ice track surrounding Luleå, only a few metres away from the city centre, stems from a citizens’ initiative put forward by local politician Ylva Strutz in 2002. She wanted an ice track for recreation and long-distance skating to be created on the sea ice surrounding the city. The job to create what is now an obvious part of the city was given to the only person with previous experience in the field, Jan Blomqvist. Or Jan the Iceman, as he’s more commonly known as.
The Ice man
Jan Blomqvist is not the type who pats himself on the back whilst loudly bragging about his work. Jan is not the least bit boastful – but don’t let his humility fool you. He has been around since the birth of the ice track and is now the manager of the team tasked with creating the spectacular ice track every year. “But I don’t want to be called that. I prefer ‘Jan the Iceman’ he chuckles, bursting into a characteristic laugh.
“No one else at the local council had ever worked with ice layout in the way that was required to design the ice track, consequently I was given the job”, explains Jan Blomqvist.
He had previous experience from a racetrack and a horse-racing track in Luleå’s North Harbour. However, incidents, noise and pollution from race cars put a stop to those projects. And, of course, there was the racehorse incident. “We did actually have proper horse races on which you could place bets. But that went awry and one of the damn horses ran away during a race and was captured about 8 km outside Luleå”, says Blomqvist, laughing at the memory.
Together with his team of six people, he has been responsible for the ice track – and its modifications, ever since. The original track only spanned half the city peninsula. Over the years, it has grown larger and the ice track is now approximately 12 km in length, if you count all the detours, such as those to the archipelagic island, Gråsjälören and the Mjölkudden residential area. Every year, when the ice has become at least 35 cm thick, they roll out the six-ton ice grading machine that keeps the ice track cleared and level.
The work done by the team is highly appreciated by the people of Luleå and the locals are happy to talk about the amazing ice track whenever they get a chance. Maybe it’s their pride and constant chatter about the ice track that led ice skating enthusiasts in the skate-crazy Netherlands to find out about Luleå.
A Dutch dream
Jan “the Iceman” Blomqvist had long suspected that it would only be a matter of time before the Dutch found out about the ice track for which he was responsible. He had, after all, been in a meeting with colleagues from a nearby city, where they discussed opportunities for bringing Dutch visitors to Swedish Lapland. They love ice and natural ice is in short supply in their home country. The Iceman didn’t think any more about that, he thought; as long as I maintain our ice track in tip top condition, it will eventually happen.
And so, out of the blue, one day in 2015, he received a call from a foreign number. The Iceman was fully occupied with his ice track and really did not have time to pick up calls.
After three or four calls from the same number, Jan Blomqvist gave in and answered the phone. “It was Bram Smallenbroek. He was up for a world record skating attempt but he had nowhere to go and he asked if I could help him.”
The dream about ice
Bram Smallenbroek, a former professional ice skater born in the Netherlands and competing for Austria, wanted to bring Olympic champion Bob de Jong to the ice track in Luleå, to break the world record for ice skating on natural ice. He needed 500 metres of straight track on high quality ice.
“I replied that I could offer 800 metres. That made them come here. You should’ve seen their faces when I showed them the ice track. Their jaws dropped”, laughed Jan. No world record was set that day but Jan Blomqvist could tell that the Dutch group were not done with Luleå just because the world record attempt didn’t work out. “I then understood that there would probably be a request from someone wanting to run a race on the ice track. And there was.”
On February 22 2017, an event that was part of the major KPN Grand Prix, took place on the ice track surrounding Luleå. The first of many.
This is all happening in large part thanks to Jan the Iceman, his collaboration with Bram Smallenbroek and his connections in the world of professional ice skating. The ice track, originally intended for ice skating locals, has become an international attraction and is now a popular place to visit amongst tourists.
The heroes of the ice track
Jan Blomqvist claims to be perfectly satisfied with the current layout of the ice track. A 20-metre-wide ice track lined with a pavement on the side for those who just want to walk on the ice. 12 km long, connecting the city to the archipelago and various residential areas. According to him, it’s perfect.
Ylva Strutz, the woman behind the citizens’ initiative, will unfortunately never see the heights that the ice track has reached. She passed away following an illness in 2016 and she is remembered as an iconic politician and as the mother of the ice track. This ice track will live on for many years to come. The people of Luleå love it and it has now become an integral part of the city.
“The great thing about the ice track is not just the quality or the length of it. It stretches around the whole city and the city centre always remains in sight, you are never far from either hotels or restaurants and other entertainment. That’s what makes it so very exceptional”, concludes Jan “the Iceman” Blomqvist.