Nordic Skating: Fun on Wild Ice
[bump from 2/06] Speedskating can be done by any outdoor enthusiast but it's often considered a highly technical sport to be done on nice ice. It has a sporting and extreme flair to it.
Nordic skating is much more touring oriented. Nordic skates are longer than typical speedskates and have upswept tips so they can easily handle rough ice and even a good bit of snow. They also are frequently set up to be used with an XC ski skating boot, so you don't end up buying two whole devices: you just buy the blades and click them onto your ski boots.
Jamie Hess of the Nordic Skater is the top US expert for this kind of skating, but quite a few XC ski pro shops are now selling the click-on nordic blades for ski boots.
Nordic skating is also often done with ski poles. It's more a "whatever works" way to spend the day on ice.
It's called "wild ice" skating and if you're really adventurous and you're not positive the whole river you're skating down (for instance) is solid and thick ice everywhere, you need to bring along a safety pole and wear a set of ice-picks (that fit together) on a string around your neck.
In Scandanavia they do long tours on "wild ice," wearing packs. They even skate on salty ocean ice---which is strong even when fairly thin yet it moves with ocean wave swells under it. Quite an adventure! I believe they stay quite near shore in general.
But the marathon speedskating scene is still a WAY cool one...