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.
Likewise, some of the city streets have hot water piped underneath, leaving them free of ice and snow.
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.
Avoid manhole covers and other metal surfaces. Always go around these ice traps.
Likewise, avoid painted surfaces, like the lines on pedestrian crossings. Once again, aim for the gravel that has been laid out for grip.
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).
Always use the handrails on stairs and if possible, send a small child ahead of you to test for slippery patches.
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.
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.
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.
And finally, grab a friend for support. Or, if you’re like me, occasionally grab a stranger. One with matching clothes is even better.
(Disclaimer: I don’t usually go around taking photos of old people from behind. It’s a new thing).