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How Nordic Skates were invented

posted by Admin User at 2016-01-10 13:35:00

History of the Steinmetz cross-country ice skate, or ‘Nordic Skate’
(transcribed from Kouwe Drukte #29, April 2007, magazine of Poolster skate collectors club)

Nordic Skates are, as so often happens with innovations, an accident. Bert Steinmetz, a biologist at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in The Hague, was an avid cyclist and skater. He had weak ankles, yet clunky high-top ‘Norwegian’ skates were taboo for him.
In September 1987 on holiday in the French Jura, he saw in a magazine a picture of a cross-country skier who moved with a skating motion. Steinmetz received the Eureka feeling and thought, this is it! If you can cross-country ski with a skating motion, you can also do the reverse, using cross-country ski bindings and ski boots. As a recreational skater, he saw immediately the many benefits:
1. You can use your strongest calf muscles because of the ‘clapskate’ effect
2. You can easily unclip your blades and walk from one canal to another, or to refreshment stands
3. You can put on your boots in a warm place, and drive or walk to the ice
4. You can use the same pair of boots for both ice skating and cross country skiing
5. There is no left or right skate, so you can ‘rotate’ your skates to reduce wear
6. For long tours you only need to carry one spare blade, which saves weight
7. You do not need skate guards
Steinmetz was enthusiastic and had a local carpenter in Voorschoten make in the autumn of 1987 an experimental skate with a cross-country ski binding on top. This experimental model can be admired at the Westland Skating Museum in Naaldwijk.
In December 1987 at the Inventors’ Centrum in Rotterdam, Steinmetz offered his skate for assessment. In July 1988 the report came back. Unfortunately, the report was a cold shower for Steinmetz. The concept was assessed positively, but a patent would be difficult to obtain, because the skate was composed of existing and already-invented parts. However, another patent expert said years later that this was an incorrect assessment.

Steinmetz could not be put off. In the autumn of 1988 he made his first test run, at midnight on the Menken Job in Leiden. The why of this midnight hour is clear: maintaining secrecy. But in mid-1989, he decided against applying for a patent - given the high cost (40,000 Dutch guilders) and the disappointing evaluation – and he contacted the Zandstra skate company.
In autumn 1989 Zandstra made up 200 pairs of natural wood-platform skates with Rottefella bindings, and conducted test runs at the Uithof speed skating oval in The Hague. Then on January 4, 1989, the skates made their debut at Heerenveen, in Friesland, and an article appeared in the Leeuwarder Courant.
Steinmetz was the best promoter of the cross-country skate. He traveled along with the Westland speed skating club to the first 200-kilometer Alternative Elfstedentocht on the Weissensee in Austria. Although not specially trained for it, he knew how to bring his journey to a successful conclusion. Let Bert Steinmetz now speak for himself:
"Once started - at 7:00 in the early morning – I was like an old diesel with a long stroke, and at my own pace I had at 11:05 the first hundred kilometers behind me. At that moment I thought: It's now or never... I calmly continued, and after I very cozily had been drafting with a few companions, I came at 18:00 to the finish. Even then I still felt fit. Now I have myself experienced firsthand that skating in cross-country ski boots is much less tiring."
Despite his personal success, the development and marketing of the ‘ski-skate’ was difficult. In 1990 Zandstra hired a private designer and made 500 pairs of blue wood-platform cross-country skates. Steinmetz was unhappy with this design, not only because of its appearance, but also because it did not fit into a conventional sharpening jig. And due to the practically ice-free winters, sales were disappointing.
Two years later in 1992, Steinmetz’s brother - an industrial designer by profession - created four new models. Zandstra took them to the Ispo winter sports fair in Munich. But because of the oversupply of ‘blue’ skates, none of these models went into production. Meanwhile, the competition was not standing still. In 1994 at the Ispo fair in Munich, Zandstra found five competitors with similar skates. It was time to say goodbye to the wood-platform model. In 1995 the first Steinmetz-designed aluminum model came on the market.
But, as said before, the competition did not sit idle. The smaller players in the skate market blew their game bravely. At Raps in Almelo, technical director Hans Veldhuis was open to innovative products. He saw a clear future for these skates. Veldhuis called it the ‘clip and clap’ skate. ‘Clip’ shows how quickly you can put them on - in combination with the sound of the ‘clap’ while skating.
Steinmetz also was the first to match up cross-country bindings with roller blades. "Grab your skates out of the closet, now that the weather is nice, and go skate!" he advised.
But that's not all. Bert Steinmetz knew he had to play multiple strings on his violin, Using his training as a biologist, he wrote a children's book entitled "The Adventure of the Cap Salmon." With this book he showed that there is also life under the ice!
In Zandstra’s 2003-04 catalog, the wood platform skate was once and for all replaced by aluminum. Miraculously though, the wooden ‘Click Noor’ is still offered for sale. Collectors, pay attention, these wooden Nordic Skates are collectors’ items!
Bert Steinmetz, creator of the cross-country skate, could be seen as a footnote in skating history. But isn’t it often the case with inventions, that they are initially received with a shrug, but later prove to be a success?
posted at: 2016-01-10 13:35:00, last updated: 2016-01-10 13:51:51