When the winter reaches its coldest and snowiest time, the Finns take it in stride. They make the most out of it by using the frozen ocean as a winter playground.
It’s fun, fascinating and maybe just a little scary to walk over the frozen Baltic Sea. And even more fun to ski over it. You can drill a hole in the ice and go fishing, or visit a site where a larger hole is maintained and go swimming.
Thick ice occasionally disrupts Baltic shipping lanes, but for the rest of us, it brings a sense of adventure and a breath of fresh air. Islands become closer, suddenly just a stroll away, directly across the bay, instead of requiring boats or bridges. When conditions permit, municipal authorities plough ocean ice-skating tracks several kilometres long.
It’s a winter wonderland well worth experiencing if you have the chance.
Remember to use a healthy dose of caution, of course: Don’t go out alone – follow the crowds of locals and be aware that, especially as spring approaches, ice conditions can change and weaken from day to day, sometimes from hour to hour. If the ice looks too thin or you’re otherwise in doubt, just stick to our slideshow.
Strolling over the sea
The ocean beside the Helsinki neighbourhood of Ullanlinna, not to mention the rest of the Finnish coast, becomes a park and playground when the sea freezes over. Photo: Tim Bird
Finns take to the ice to enjoy a sunny promenade. Photo: Tim Bird
A skier passes in the distance, framed between random blocks pushed up as the ice strives against submerged rocks. Photo: Tim Bird
When the ice keeps their boats moored in the harbour, border guards use a hovercraft to speed across the frozen ocean on a cushion of air. One afternoon they parked it so that curious onlookers could get a closer view. Photo: Tim Bird
When you’re able to get a close look at this sign by crossing the ice, you can see that its lamp is powered by a couple of solar panels. Photo: Tim Bird
A fallen piece of an ice sculpture mimics a telescope. Photo: Tim Bird
The sun helps the edge of an ice floe melt into a thicket of stalactites and stalagmites. Photo: Tim Bird
Ski the sea: Walkers share the ice with a skier blazing his own trail across the frozen seascape. Farther out, the shipping lanes are kept open, but it’s safe to watch from a distance. Photo: Tim Bird
If you can walk it or ski it, you can probably bike it. Photo: Tim Bird
Ice-hole swimming forms a healthy pastime with a devoted following – but for some reason it’s not as popular as skiing. Photo: Tim Bird
Layers of snow and ice display a fascinating variety of textures. Photo: Tim Bird
Ice conditions may change as the winter progresses, so stick to the beaten path where there are plenty of locals who know what they’re doing. Photo: Tim Bird
Photos by Tim Bird
Text by Peter Marten