How to walk on ice without dying

It’s not actually that cold here in Helsinki. With the temperature yo-yoing around zero degrees however we have snow that melts and then refreezes – leaving a layer of ice over everything.

Around 20,000 people a month in Finland sustain injuries from slipping on ice in winter. Here are a few things I’ve learnt about surviving on icy streets:

Don’t be afraid! Go outside everyday – Helsinki is set up for it – and if you don’t you’ll end up staying inside for four months. Towers like these are set up from December and are full of tiny stones that are spread on the footpaths to help with grip.

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Likewise, some of the city streets have hot water piped underneath, leaving them free of ice and snow.

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Laying the pipes in summer

 

Ice free in winter

Ice-free in winter

Choose the path of most resistance. Walk where others walk, look for gravel to walk on and avoid shiny dark areas. If there is no gravel, choose snow over ice.

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Slippery, slipperier, slipperiest

Avoid manhole covers and other metal surfaces. Always go around these ice traps.

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Likewise, avoid painted surfaces, like the lines on pedestrian crossings. Once again, aim for the gravel that has been laid out for grip.

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Don’t rush out the back door on your way to the rubbish room without checking the conditions first. Step outside that door at speed and you may find yourself slipping and sliding across the courtyard while squealing like a pig (true story).

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Always use the handrails on stairs and if possible, send a small child ahead of you to test for slippery patches.

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Stairway to hell

Leave plenty of time to get somewhere – rushing is never a good idea. I would seriously add on 50% of the time you’d normally take to walk somewhere.

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If you parked your car in the street overnight, take a shovel with you the next morning. The snow ploughs that clear the streets in the night create piles of snow that might block you in.

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Hidden layers of ice under snow make hills a real danger zone – but also a really fun thing to do on the weekend. If you do accidentally slide down a hill, always yell ‘yippee!’ and act like it was intentional.

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And finally, grab a friend for support. Or, if you’re like me, occasionally grab a stranger. One with matching clothes is even better.

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(Disclaimer: I don’t usually go around taking photos of old people from behind. It’s a new thing).

Yle News: Slip, Fall, Break a Leg – Who Pays?

29 thoughts on “How to walk on ice without dying

  1. This is my first winter here and I am constantly amazed (REALLY angry) that whilst I am walking at 1mph and falling over the place there are locals casually running past me as though the ice isn’t even there!

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      • Ty, think about how you would ascend or descend perhaps slightly slippery stairs. Not particularly slippery – almost normal in fact – but definitely not grippy either.
        Got it?
        Now, when you’re on icy surface, think of it as walking on stairs of zero height (and don’t cheat). That’s how you do it. Then you won’t lock your knees and your weight is on your foot when stepping down. You’re not swinging you legs when stepping down either. You can even get some additional traction by stomping very slightly as that helps secure the foothold.

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  2. I like the advice about sending a child before you – I will borrow a stranger’s child if I find myself in icy conditions 🙂 One thing I found interesting in one Nordic country was seeing young women in stilettos while walking confidently on ice. What? I could not walk without slipping and sliding even when wearing proper boots. Enjoy the ice!

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  7. Also remember to not walk along the walls of buildings, this is where ice falls down and kills people every year.

    Don’t wear shoes with hard soles (Army-boots style) if you’re an ice newbie, soft soles have an easier time to find grip and the hard shoes, while warm, give you no feeling for balance.

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