While elsewhere snowbells and crocus are blooming, winter still (or again) has its grip on Finland. We spent much of February at just a little above 0 degrees in slush (so much for “Pearl month“…), but now some fresh snow arrived and temperatures are just below 0 in glorious sunshine. Therefore, I decided to ring in March with some ice skating.
When we moved to Helsinki a few months ago, I was already looking forward to ice skating on natural surfaces. When I still lived at home, I went skating on local ponds whenever it was possible, as I don’t like artificial ice rinks. It just feels less like “being out in nature” than skating on a lake. I imagined skating across the sea, around the many bays of Helsinki. In reality, there is an official skating space in the northern harbour (between the large sailing ships that lie here in winter), where snow is usually removed to allow skating, and two long distance trails: in Laajalahti, between Helsinki and Espoo, and in Puotila in eastern Helsinki, but otherwise there don’t seem to be any natural areas. If there was no snow, it would probably be possible to skate in other places as well, but for that it would be good to know where dangerous currents leave the ice very thin – unfortunately I haven’t been able to find a local expert on that yet (feel free to speak up in the comments section ;)) and didn’t really want to experiment on myself. This year, none of the official areas were open, as the weather just didn’t allow for it – hello climate change!
However, during winter, outdoor ice rinks pop up on every second corner. Mostly on sports grounds near schools, which have the advantage that there are toilets and changing rooms. There is a website, where you can search for rinks (and skiing tracks) in your area and check if they are open: mSki. We discovered a very nice rink in Lauttasaari: On one side it has a noisy road bordering it, but on the other side you can see the sea through the trees. Of course Mr Always Right at first complained that the rink was too crowded – as you can clearly see on the picture. There’s not just one, but two rinks there: one for regular skaters and a smaller one for ice hockey games. Ice hockey is the national sport of Finland, and therefore almost everyone plays it. But the players always (or at least when I was there) stay in their own areas and don’t interfere with other people who just want to do rounds.
Children here are practically born on ice skates. I’m not a novice, as I have been skating at least once almost every year: I can go in straight lines and circles and break as long as it doesn’t have to be too sudden. But that’s about it then: going backwards, pirouettes, emergency stops etc are not part of my repertoire. So pretty much any 4-year-old here is better at skating than I am. For beginners, there are small racks that they can hold on to – more or less the ice version of a walking frame for elderly. Here, these are only required by children of an age at which even without ice skates they would still have issues walking on two feet.