The Charm of Ice Hole Swimming in Finland

While I was in Porvoo in Finland, some locals found it fun to introduce me to ice hole swimming and sauna culture. For bathing in frozen water I would never have bet a euro on it and yet. The temperature has dropped a bit, it is minus 15. I have to put four layers under the combine, two leggings and two pairs of socks. I also put a hood under the helmet.

We depart early in the morning at 10 am for a 30 km motorcycle ride. We have lunch in the forest, and then again go 20 km. We stop regularly to see if everything is fine. Everyone follows. Beginners follow at 80 km/h, which is not bad, because behind it shakes a lot. It feels like being on corrugated iron.

And we arrive at the chalet. And what a surprise! It is located in the countryside beside a lake and there is nothing nearby. We take a room on the ground floor, and above is the dormitory. There is no water, and no electricity with only small oil lamps. It's very warm. Going down to the lake, there is the the sauna and finally the ice hole for the brave couple.

At first the girls go to the sauna while we guys play cards. Then it's the opposite. By a frozen late afternoon, with just -18 degrees outside, I arrive at the lake. I see some fishing trials at the hole on the lake, with three small poles that are immediately returned to the water. But the supreme discovery is a little further, towards the small bridge. I see a real postcard landscape.

I meet a dynamic woman who practices ice hole swimming every day. According to her, it's invigorating, and protects against germs for the winter! Given the dynamism and envy to initiate me to this unusual practice, I tell myself that it is a unique experience next to which I cannot pass. It's decided, and I'll go swim in this frozen water.

So I'm still wrapped up in my jacket, my hat, my boots and my gloves. It makes me run on the spot to warm me up. A young woman comes out of the locker room and gives a demonstration with a smile. Who can smile at the idea of ​​going for a swim in icy water? The Finns of course! I realize that we must not think but walk steadily, go down the stairs one by one, swim and come out.

I saw, I can go! I hop to the locker room to put on my swimsuit and here I am almost naked in a towel -18 degrees. I keep my hat because when the hair is cold it is the whole body that is cold. The instructor proposes to go before me in the water to initiate me to the end. She's going straight. Its my turn.

I advance on the pontoon, drop the towel thinking the water is hot. But yes of course the water is hot or at least I have the impression. There is 18 degree deviations in the outside temperature and that of the water. I go down the ladder, swim and go back up. I did not push the vice until I plunged my body into the snow as some Finns do.

I think I have far exceeded my limits for this time. Once out of the water and wrapped in the towel that does not protect me from the extreme outside temperature, I go to the locker room to get dressed and it is then that the sensations are the strongest. The drops of water on my hair freeze and I feel like my whole body is blinking or behaving as if I were a big glass of sparkling water.

It is really what I felt and this feeling is incredibly magical and unique. After this dive in the ice it would have been good to have a sauna but there was none on the spot. I will go a few minutes later, once back to my bed and breakfast because any good Finnish has a sauna at home. The must-have is still the traditional sauna called the smoke sauna, the one with the wood fire smell so special.

I will have the opportunity to test one in Helsinki a little later in the week and it's true that it has nothing to do with the one that runs on electricity. Once out of the locker room and covered again for this indigestible outdoor temperature, I feel good. I'm absolutely not cold. I find those who have tried the experience with me.

The instructor is very happy to have introduced us to ice swimming. I am delighted to have exceeded the limits of my reluctance to test this typical Finnish exercise. The fact of having realized surrounded by local made this experience even more exceptional.

For the record, that night there were some chances to see Northern Lights in Porvoo. The instructor and her friends suggested we come back around 11 pm to chase them in a midnight bath. We have declined the invitation having a planned dinner in a family.

We have a nice evening around a fire, where wild salmon have been cooking for two hours. Then, we still make pancakes. And then we have a big surprise. A storyteller shaman comes to visit us and tells us the story of Lapland as I enjoy the lakka liqueur with local berry with some vodka and lots of sprite.

We go near the lake waiting for those famous aurora borealis. They are far away, and the sky is a little overcast. We only see a very small one. All photographers have installed their cameras on a tripod and wait patiently. The atmosphere is really special, at 11 pm by minus 35 degrees on this frozen lake.

The Charm of Ice Hole Swimming in Finland
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  • Felicity Grace Terry
    Felicity Grace Terry October 18, 2012 at 8:26 AM

    Had to laugh at the thought you were allowed near the hole IF you had someone with you.

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