Try Iceboating in Wisconsin
People have been iceboating — sailing on frozen lakes — since the 17th century in the Netherlands. The first iceboat regatta in North America sailed in the 1880s on the Hudson River in New York. Still, the sport is both obscure and dangerous (think freeway speeds on a surface that’s, well, slick as ice). It also happens to be the ultimate winter adventure, well-worth pursuing if you’re ever near a lake in the Ice Belt, the portion of the earth in between the 40th and 50th parallels.
The four lakes surrounding Madison, Wisconsin (Mendota, Monona, Kegonsa, and Waubesa) is one such place. Temperatures are cold enough to freeze the water, yet there’s not a ton of snow burying the ice. While there are no outfitters anywhere in North America currently offering iceboating lessons, The Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club in Madison is one of the most active iceboat clubs on the continent, and its members are always happy to show a newbie the ropes. “I’d rent iceboats myself if it wasn’t such a liability issue,” says Deb Whitehorse, the club’s secretary and website content manager. “Just email us, there’s always someone willing to take you for a ride and offer advice.”
An iceboat has a frame similar to a one-person sailboat, with skis or runners (skates) added to the bottom to navigate the ice. There are several different classes of iceboats—the most popular being the “DN,” used on the international competition circuit. Made from wood, the DN is 12-feet long, weighs 100–150 pounds, and goes up to 60 mph. The larger, flashier “skeeters” can exceed 100 mph.
It’s possible to just go out and cruise on a lake, but experienced iceboaters don’t recommend it. “Participating in a race is actually the safest way to sail an iceboat,” says Whitehorse. “The course has been scouted for cracks and holes, and there are buoys and other markers set up to prevent collisions.” Either way, even the biggest daredevils would never iceboat alone.
Between Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, and across the border in Ontario, there are multiple iceboat races happening every weekend, or as Whitehorse puts it, “There’s an iceboat race whenever and wherever there is ice.”Back to top