Icy resolve: Creating the world’s widest ice carousel on a Finnish lake

Janne Käpylehto’s newest project – making the largest ice carousel in the world – amounts to a masterclass in sisu, the untranslatable Finnish word that signifies courage and endurance. And we’ve got it on video.

On a frozen lake surface in the western Finnish region of Ostrobothnia, Käpylehto spent a total of almost two weeks driving an effort to cut a huge circle of ice and make it spin.

His display of resilience and determination continued until his work was through, despite variable weather conditions and machinery malfunctions.

An appetite for growth

See Janne Käpylehto and his friends persevere as they try to cut the world’s biggest ice carousel on a frozen lake in western Finland. (Watch for the dance at about 2:05.)Video: Erika Benke/ThisisFINLAND

“I just need to go inside and change my boots,” Käpylehto says matter-of-factly. “They’re full of water.” He has just emerged from behind a spray of frigid water created by the giant chainsaw he was wielding. He flashes a smile.

It’s January 28, 2023, and the temperature is minus 7 degrees Celsius (19 degrees Fahrenheit). Käpylehto is using the saw to clear a long channel, 15 centimetres (six inches) across, in the ice that covers Lappajärvi, a lake five hours’ drive north of Helsinki.

He’s attempting to create the world’s biggest ice carousel. Since arriving five days ago, he’s been working day and night on the frozen lake.

He has held the world record before: In 2021 he made a carousel 310 metres (340 yards) in diameter. His achievement stood until later in 2021, when Roger Morneault of Maine, USA made one 376 metres (411 yards) wide. In 2022, the Zwilling family in Minnesota, USA cut a carousel more than 400 metres (437 yards) in diameter. Käpylehto is eager to retake the title.

Friendly competition

Two men dressed in heavy winter clothing walk on a frozen lake surface.

Janne Käpylehto’s American ice-carousel colleagues Roger Morneault of Maine (left) and Chuck Zwilling of Minnesota, flew over to Finland to participate. Each of them has also held the world record at some point.Still photo from video/Erika Benke/ThisisFINLAND

To saw through ice 42 centimetres (16 inches) thick, he and a team of 30 volunteers are using tools that include two custom-made machines. One is a circular-blade cutter that Käpylehto invented. He designed the other one in cooperation with nearby Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences. It has two blades and is mounted on a pair of skis.

After five days, both machines break down. But Janne doesn’t let that get to him. “We’ll have to cut the ice with chainsaws,” he says.

A ten-person team from the US is also there, including members of the Zwilling family. The main reason for flying over to Finland is to help, says Chuck Zwilling. “Ice carousels connect people,” he says. “We compete with each other to break records, but we also help each other succeed.”

Despite the hard work and the camaraderie, the carousel isn’t spinning properly by Saturday night. So a gala dinner at the lakeside Hotel Kivitippu, just 100 metres from the carousel, comes and goes without the trophy changing hands.

The next morning brings harsh news: temperatures have plunged overnight, and the carousel is now frozen solid.

Going for a spin

A man pushes a circular saw mounted on a wooden frame along a frozen lake surface while several people watch.

Käpylehto (at right) cuts the thick lake ice with a saw contraption of his own devising, sending up splashes of water in the process.Still photo from video/Erika Benke/ThisisFINLAND

“It’s a bummer,” says Käpylehto. He says he needs to go home and rest. The Americans are also leaving.

However, Käpylehto hasn’t given up. Five days later, he’s back in Lappajärvi. “We’ve decided to make it spin,” he says.

Dozens of volunteers from the nearby villages of Lappajärvi, Alajärvi and Vimpeli join the effort again. This time the machines don’t break, and the sun is even shining.

Perseverance, local community cooperation and sheer willpower yield success five days later. On February 6, just a week after the initial target date, a triumphant Käpylehto shows off a rotating, record-breaking carousel.

It’s a massive 516 metres (564 yards) in diameter, with an estimated weight of 78,000 tonnes. The circumference is 1,620 metres (just over a mile).

“I called Chuck Zwilling in Minnesota,” he says. “He congratulated us and said he wasn’t surprised at all. In fact, he said he would have been surprised if I’d given up.”

What’s next? Käpylehto says he’ll make more ice carousels while the winter lasts, albeit smaller ones. And he’ll be back in Lappajärvi next winter to attempt another world record – just as you’d expect.

By Erika Benke, February 2023