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Sam Cook column: What? Lake skating again this year?

Against the odds, conditions were right again this winter.

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Sam Cook

The word had spread fast — ice forming on a little lake north of town. A friend of mine lives near the lake and had been checking it daily.

“About an inch, inch-and-a-half,” came his first report.

I’m sure the word was going out all across the north country among ice-watchers. The lure — wild skating. Acres and acres, maybe miles and miles of smooth, clear ice on backcountry lakes.

But most of us won’t venture out on an inch or inch-and-a-half.

“Two inches,” my friend reported in his next message.

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Some folks will skate on two inches. But we waited.

Three inches. Then four. Gorgeous black ice from shore to shore.

This kind of skating opportunity doesn’t occur often. Maybe once every five or 10 years. Conditions must be just right — cold days and nights, little wind, no snow.

But it had happened last year, too. Two years in a row was almost unthinkable. Yet here it was.

We gathered with our skates at the lake near my friend’s home on a mostly cloudy afternoon. A trace of snow had fallen overnight, but not enough to hamper the skating. Off we went, wherever we wanted. Several other parties were out, too, and more would come.

RELATED: Skaters enjoy Island Lake's snow-free ice cover

The yellow dog ran alongside us, pink tongue flapping. We skated into the wind across the lake. We stopped to marvel at this rare opportunity. We told stories. Then we took off again, downwind, gliding almost effortlessly.

Skating is good on a smooth sheet of ice in a rink. But there is nothing quite like the forever freedom of lake skating. It’s intoxicating. It makes grown-ups want to giggle. We would stop occasionally, gather up, shoot the breeze. And then we would go for more, leaving thin black tracks in the snow.

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A group of young women skated by, one of them executing spins as she went. How does she do that? One lakeshore resident had set out a table and chairs and snacks on the ice near his home.

This was storybook stuff. Without much trouble, we could imagine we were in Finland or Norway or Sweden. But we weren’t. We were right here in northern Minnesota, doing what comes naturally when the ice gets right.

Editor’s note: The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recommends a minimum of 4 inches of ice for foot travel on lakes. The DNR cautions that ice is never 100% safe.

Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at cooksam48@gmail.com or find his Facebook page at facebook.com/sam.cook.5249 .

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