Meet the Olympian Who Skates on Lake Michigan

If you decided to stroll along the lake during a cold snap, you might see him speeding across its ice-slicked surface.

Many Milwaukeeans have been grumbling about the blanket of cold that’s settled across the city. But not Brian Hansen. The Illinois native – who moved to Milwaukee about ten years ago – gets excited whenever the temperature takes a nosedive. Because he knows that there’s a decent chance that Lake Michigan will freeze over, and he’ll be able to skate along the freshly formed ice. 

Hansen started speed skating when he was a kid, and has been a fixture of the Pettit National Ice Center (one of only two 400-meter indoor rinks in the U.S.) for years, first as a student, now as a teacher. He’s also a three-time Olympian. He competed for the U.S. in the 2010 games in Vancouver, Canada; the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia; and the 2018 games in PyeongChang, South Korea. 

“To make my first Olympic team, in 2010, I was training probably 10 to 11 times a week,” Hansen says. “I deferred a year from college. It kinda becomes a full-time thing.”

 

 

Hansen says his days at the Olympics are behind him. But he still teaches twice a week at the Pettit, and he’s developed a new hobby too. Outdoor skating.

“I’ve skated all over Wisconsin,” he says, adding that he takes care to make sure the conditions are ideal before venturing out on the ice. “Generally you want at least four inches of ice. And you should look at the color of the ice too. If it’s dark and you can see through it, it’s probably strong. If it’s white, it’s probably weak.” 

“If I’m unsure at all,” he adds. “I usually wear a wetsuit and I wear a special type of ice pick too.”

He’s also quick to point out that he wouldn’t recommend amateur skaters start stomping across Milwaukee’s harbor just because they’ve seen a few ice floes form along its edges. “My safety advice is to go to the lakes where the ice fishermen are out,” he says. “The best spots in Milwaukee are probably Humboldt or any of those lagoons that they clear off.”

But on especially cold days, he loves stepping out onto Lake Michigan itself, and gliding past the Milwaukee skyline. “There’s nothing else like it.”

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Lindsey Anderson covers culture for Milwaukee Magazine. Before joining the MilMag team she worked as an editor at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and wrote freelance articles for ArtSlant and Eater.