Subterranean Skating

If you feel like you're barely scratching the surface of skating history, why not dive deep underground? Today, we're about to uncover the secrets of two extraordinary ice rinks!


Part of the Stratená Cave System, the Dobšinská Ice Cave was naturally formed in the Middle Triassic period near the Slovenské Rudohorie mountains. Only a short distance from the mining town of Dobšiná, the Ice Cave was first discovered by royal mining engineer Eugen Ruffíni on July 15, 1870. Although its entrance was previously known by shepherds and hunters, what Ruffini and the three men who joined him on his expedition found underground that summer day in the nineteenth century was simply stunning. In the Ice Cave's Grand Hall, a natural ice floor was discovered and as early as 1871, the people of the region were skating underground.

Ten years later, experiments with electrical lighting began in the Ice Caves and by July 3, 1887, the underground natural rink was opened spectacularly as the first illuminated subterranean skating rink in Europe. Temperatures in the Ice Cave allowed for year-round skating and attracted skaters from neighbouring countries. It was the Hungarians who were behind a great number of important skating events that were held there over the years.

On July 16, 1893, the first (known) skating festival held in a cave took place in the Dobšinská Ice Cave. Studying primary sources (the Rozsnyói Híradó and Sajó vidéke), King Székely and Pavol Horváth determined that "the event was attended by nearly 100 performers, including 32 pairs [which] were members of a skating club. The performance was watched by 300 enchanted viewers. Guests from Budapest arrived in Roznava, there was not a sufficient number of carriages on [the first] trip, so Earl Géza (Gejza) Andrássy [sent for more]. During the ice festival, which lasted from 14 to 16 hours, 32 pairs [danced] a waltz, then violinist Lajos (Louis) Radics from Miskolc danced the French quadrille. The lack of capacity of accommodation at the Cave [left] participants dancing all through the night... G. Rohoncz at the final toast stated that to maintain the ice festival and its developments [festival goers should] establish a joint stock company. Its proposal soon was presented to leaders... The project was supported by several prominent personalities of Hungary."

In early August 1894 (despite one skater withdrawing because the prizes weren't flashy enough) a competition was held in the Ice Cave with skaters from Prussia and Hungary participating. Gypsy bands provided live musical accompaniment for the skaters competing. Figure skaters Artur Dezso and Jeno Christi practiced there, as did several other skaters from Budapest and Vienna over the years. Even World Champion Lili Kronberger made her way underground to show off her finest skating in the summer of 1908.

Olympic and World Silver Medallist Karol Divín trained in the Ice Cave in his youth under his father, as did military speed skaters. Divin recalled, "In the postwar years, when [we had] not yet the opportunity to train in indoor halls as now, we skated in the Dobšinská cave. It was from 1947 to 1952. It was the summer period of June, July and August. My father, who had led me to figure skating, had every year [to] execute permission from the Monuments Office (I guess in Bratislava). Of course, I was not the only one who trained there. Joint training participated also other skaters in Bratislava and also from Prague... Eva Grožajová, Ivan Mauer, Franz Landl, Dagmar Lerchová, Alexandra Black, Jindra Kramperová, Vera Zajícková and others. The system was such that we skated two days, the third day was free for reconstruction [of the] ice... In 2008, I made a trip to the scene... On the surface, where we then skated, it would now not work, because during the time there grew up a huge hill (about 7- 8 m high). However, the nature and surroundings of the cave is beautiful, as it was then." Skating was permitted year-round in the cave until 1946 but as Divin described,conditions deteriorated over the years. Today, you can certainly tour the Dobšinská Ice Cave, but skating isn't the possibility it once was.


At an elevation of over four thousand meters, Jungfraujoch is a glacier saddle of the Bernese Alps, connecting the summits of the Jungfrau and Mönch mountains. In 1912, a railway was constructed to bring tourists to Jungfraujoch and several restaurants, an observatory and hiking trails were established. In 1933, two guides from the railway set to work chiseling out an attraction that would thrill visitors to the remote region for years to come - the Jungfraujoch Eispalast or  'Famed Glacial Ice Rink Of Switzerland'.

The Jungfraujoch Eispalast in 1953. Photo courtesy Jungfraubahnen.

An advertisement for the rink that appeared in "World Ice Skating Guide" in 1961 read, "There is little doubt that the most curious and interesting of all the ice skating rinks in this old world of ours is the 100 X 60 ice rink in the Jungfraujoch Glacier at Interlachen, Switzerland. Straight down into the heart of the glacier some sixty feet or more steps are chiseled out of solid ice. Then you enter a yawning cavern of ice and lo, and behold the familiar sight of figure skaters going through 'school' figures and free skating meets your frost covered eye. The rink floor is a polished sheet of smoothness, while overhead arches and the ceiling of age old glacial ice gives an eerie effect. The walls, of course, are also of ice as are the rest benches and skate counters. Surely, it is one of the most interesting sights in the universe."

Posters advertising the Jungfraujoch Eispalast - 1937 (left) and 1950 (right). Photos courtesy Jungfraubahnen.

Today, the Jungfraujoch Eispalast is operated as a museum and is filled with beautiful ice sculptures. Kathrin Naegeli, the Head of Corporate Communications at Jungfrau Railways explained, "It isn’t possible to go figure/ice skating in the Eisplast anymore. We don't have an exact time frame when it was stopped. But you see in the posters from 1937 and 1950 that it was still possible in the fifties."

Tours of the Dobšinská Ice Cave and Jungfraujoch Eispalast are still very popular. Don't just sit there... dig below the surface and trace the history of skating underground for yourself by visting these unique places!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of "Jackson Haines: The Skating King" and pre-ordering "Sequins, Scandals & Salchows: Figure Skating in the 1980s", which will be released this fall where books are sold: