Theres something immensely appealing about lacing up a pair of skates with long, thin blades and soaring so fast on ice that your snot freezes. Im not alone in my feelings; participation in distance skating is growing, across open ponds and lakes and on manicured 400-meter outdoor ovals. The two biggest reasons for the sports newfound popularity in North America? Winter vacation spots are embracing it as an alternative to snow sportsespecially during dry yearsand people are discovering that it uses almost the same technique as cross-country skate-skiing. There is, however, a quantum leap in the thrill factor: In skate-skiing you can occasionally work up to Mach speeds, whereas in distance skating you consistently shatter the sound barrier.
The Occom Pond Party (www.webskater.org/party) will be held on Saturday, February 14, in Hanover, New Hampshire. The event is free; rent skates at the Dartmouth Cross Country Ski Center ( per day; 603-646-1747). Events at Quebec Citys Lac Beauport Skating Marathon (www.webskater.org/beauport) in February 2004 include 5K, 10K, 25K, and 50K races. Entry fees range from to . Rent skates through Nordic Skater ( per day; 866-244-2570, www.nordicskater.com). For more information on distance skating, contact the north american Marathon skating association (802-649-3939,