The duration of winter ice cover on lakes varies substantially with climate variability, and has decreased over the last several decades in many temperate lakes. However, little is known of how changes in seasonal ice cover may affect biogeochemical processes under ice. We examined winter nitrogen (N) dynamics under ice using a 30+ yr dataset from five oligotrophic/mesotrophic north temperate lakes to determine how changes in inorganic N species varied with ice duration. Nitrate accumulated during winter and was strongly related to the number of days since ice-on. Exogenous inputs accounted for less than 3% of nitrate accumulation in four of the five lakes, suggesting a paramount role of nitrification in regulating N transformation and the timing of chemical conditions under ice. Winter nitrate accumulation rates ranged from 0.15 μg N L−1 d−1 to 2.7 μg N L−1 d−1 (0.011–0.19 μM d−1), and the mean for intermediate depths was 0.94 μg N L−1 d−1(0.067 μM d−1). Given that winters with shorter ice duration (< 120 d) have become more frequent in these lakes since the late 1990s, peak winter nitrate concentrations and cumulative nitrate production under ice may be declining. As ice extent and duration change, the physical and chemical conditions supporting life will shift. This research suggests we may expect changes in the form and amount of inorganic N, and altered dissolved nitrogen : phosphorus ratios, in lakes during winters with shorter ice duration.