Climate change moves legendary Dutch outdoor speed skating race to Austria

The Elfstedentocht is a 125-mile race across 11 Dutch cities over frozen water, but it hasn't actually been held in the Netherlands since 1997. 60 Minutes reports on how racers are coping with that, Sunday.

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The Elfstedentocht is the longest, most punishing outdoor speed skating race in the world. And it's been an essential part of Dutch life since 1909. Held in the northern province of Friesland, the 125-mile race links 11 cities over frozen canals and waterways. But climate change has changed all that, and now the race is under threat. Bill Whitaker reports on an alternative race in the Austrian Alps that's drawing thousands of Dutch skaters on the next edition of 60 Minutes Sunday, March 8, at 7 p.m. ET/PT on CBS. 
 
It hasn't been cold enough to hold the Elfstedentocht in the Netherlands since 1997. A group of enthusiasts in 1989 began holding an alternative event 750 miles away in the tiny Austrian mountain lake town of Weissensee. It's now attracting several thousand skaters, nearly all Dutch, and making for one heck of a party in a town that swells to about 6,000 for the event.
 
60 Minutes cameras capture the excitement of the race, the different kinds of skaters and the exuberant crowds drawn to the hamlet for perhaps the biggest skating party in the world. The boisterous celebration after the race is called "The Blister Ball."
 
It starts before dawn with skaters wearing helmet lights and ends well after dusk. For the top-notch racers skating 125 miles, it takes about seven hours to finish. Others aim to skate half that distance or a personal best. Many skaters start in the dark and end in the dark. There was even one veteran skater who fixed blades to his walker.
 
Whitaker spoke to the Blom family who drove 11 hours from the Netherlands to get to Weissensee. Twenty of them skated. The youngest, 10-year-old Jenrique, toughed out 60 miles.  It took over nine hours.
 
Whitaker also found an American who'd made the trek from the United States to Austria. Howard Morris, a librarian from Minnesota, dreamt of skating the Elfstedentocht when he began speed skating. A Dutch friend told him he'd have to go to Austria to find ice. "It's the reality of the times," says Morris. "I know some people fear that the whole tradition of skating will die out because of the change in winters."
 
Even in Weissensee, there are worrying signs. High in the mountains, there was almost no snow in the village and ice wasn't thick enough in some parts of the lake to use its entire surface for the race.