The Rockies in winter have a special allure for 32-year-old Laura Kottlowski, a freelance creative/art director from Golden, Colorado. Where most outdoor freaks see backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, and ice climbing, she sees pristine alpine lakes ready for spins, double jumps and lutzes. Up on these high, frozen ponds, Kottlowski, who began figure skating at age six and competed in college at Penn State University, melds her passions for mountaineering, figure skating and artistry into something she calls “skate-exploring.”
“If I see ice as smooth as glass, I just want to skate it, especially in such epic settings,” says Kottlowski, who started alpine lake skating in 2009. Her skate-exploration is motivated by a desire to glide across as many stunning and wild locations as she can, despite the obvious dangers of unstable snow, ice and weather.
Backcountry skating like this is popular in Scandinavia, but quite rare here in the U.S. She relies upon microspikes and crampons for ascents (having skated as high as 12,730 feet), adding ice axes when steeper and icier terrain stands in the way of that perfect tarn with more than foot-thick ice. At lower elevations where the ice is questionably thin, she’ll skate wearing a PFD and she carries ice picks in each hand in case she needs to clamber out of a slippery hole.
“When the ice cracks beneath your blades it sounds like a Star Wars battle with ray guns,” she says.
Kottlowski loves to share the skate stoke. She coaches all levels and ages at the Apex Center Ice Arena in Arvada. And, through pro bono work with Denver’s Back of Beyond Media, she co-produced a film to help protect the Gunnison sage-grouse from extinction. But the mountains keep calling. She dreams of some day skating on the world’s highest lakes.