Kayla Jeter: Winter in Finland

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Another month has passed and it’s finally the end of February and perhaps the beginning of spring here in Finland! The snow has melted and the days are longer, and it no longer looks like midnight at 4:30 in the afternoon. In comparison to the polar vortex that engulf the States these past few weeks – and apparently has returned – I have survived my first winter in a higher latitude, which was extremely mild by Finnish standards. To my dismay I missed out on freezing eyelashes and daily article blasts to the face but don’t get me wrong, I made sure to engage in traditional winter activities Finnish style.

Before I delve into my activities, I wanted to take a moment to mention how beautiful Finland is in the winter once it actually sets in. From about November to January you endure a dark period, the sunrises around 9:45 AM and sets around 3:45 PM. As I’ve mentioned in previous entries, I had a issues adjusting to the short days especially once I had returned from the U.S. but with the start of a New Year the days slowly get longer and you’re rewarded with the best winter landscape Mother Nature has to offer. Around the end of January I saw the sun for the first time in WEEKS sunshine and blue skies greeted me in the mornings and said farewell as evening practice began. By the way, it is important to note that this gorgeous scenery is coupled with below freezing temperatures — -9 to be exact. It was on these days that I became mesmerized by Finland’s beauty. It was as though God had taken a box of powdered sugar and dumped it on everything. White frozen trees accompanied by pink sunrises and orange sunsets. Breathtaking. Pinterest pictures did not disappoint.

Now, once freezing temperatures hit consistently for a number of days the lakes were completely frozen and deemed safe to engage winter activities on the surface. For those who didn’t know, Finland is nothing but lakes. 187,888 to be exact which means three things: cross-country skiing, on-lake driving, and ice hole swimming. Unfortunately I didn’t get the opportunity to cross-country ski – but I did take a “short cut” with my boyfriend walking across a life about 1.5 miles while carrying a bike, imagine my excitement – or drive on the lake but I DID ICE HOLE SWIM! Yes, you read that correctly. I voluntarily lowered myself into an ice hole in the middle of winter in a bikini. Although this may seem odd to some, it is extremely common amongst Finns and seeing how I have a residence card I’m basically Finnish now. I had wanted to go all winter but when my boyfriend came to visit for two weeks I knew it would be a perfect opportunity to experience together! After two weeks of putting it off — he was scared — we finally decided to take the plunge with my roommate, my teammates dad and my other teammate from Venezuela who had previously played in Arkansas, making Arkansas the only “winter experience” she’d known. Hellloooooo geographical culture shock! Many of the lakes throughout Finland have a beach type set up so there was a place for us to change, fully equipped with a shared Finnish-style sauna.

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The Finnish way to execute ice hole swimming is as follows:

  1. Wear socks/foot protection
  2. Wear swimming suit
  3. Walk out to swimming hole WITHOUT ENTERING SAUNA FIRST
  4. Lower yourself into the water for a few seconds via ladder or bravely walk into the water (doggie paddle if you like)
  5. Get out and wait for everyone else in your group to go as you freeze
  6. Speed walk back into the building 
  7. Grab some juice/water
  8. Hit the sauna
  9. Repeat

Pretty easy right? Once you get the first time out of the way it really isn’t that bad, especially after coming out of the sauna. You might think not going to the sauna first wouldn’t make a difference BUUUUUUT it does. Going from a 200+ degree steam room into 32-degree water balances much better than depending on your body temperature to keep you warm. In total, we did about four rounds followed by some hot chocolate with a splash of rum. The Finns definitely know how to do winter.

As I wrote about in an earlier post, we play a team from Rovaniemi, which is also advertised as the home of Santa Claus. Below are some photos from the trip my team made to the Arctic Circle! 24 years later I finally got to see where my letters were delivered — or nah…. — after all those years and meet the big man himself! You’re never too old to believe. 😉

Enjoy!

WELCOME TO SANTA CLAUS VILLAGE!

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We got to meet Santa!

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Yes, that is a GIANT snow man. Handcrafted by Santa’s elves of course

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My first sleeper train ride: Rovaniemi to Tampere 🙂

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Kayla Jeter
Adventures of Little Mixed Girl
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