The world’s longest cross country ski race – Sweden’s ‘Vasalopp’.


Today, the world’s longest cross country ski race takes place in Sweden. Called Vasaloppet, it entails participants skiing 90 kilometers from start to finish. It’s an extremely popular international race, which can take up to 12 hours to complete, and which is broadcast live on tv. When tickets to participate are released, they sell out in 15 minutes – it’s that popular.

The first Vasalopp was in 1922 and it takes place annually, the first Sunday in March and it is a first sign of spring.  It’s an amazing sight to watch, as more than 15000 mad, happy skiers glide along, the swishing sound of ski on snow filling the air.

For the elite athletes, 12 hours to complete the race is of course unthinkable. They go considerably faster. The person who has completed the race fastest is Jörgen Brink, who in 2012 won the race in just over 3 hours 40 minutes, roughly 25 km per hour.

So why is this race called the Vasalopp? Well, it takes its name from a Swedish king. The race commemorates the escape to Norway, through the forest, of King Gustav Vasa in 1521. Legend has it that he carried out the gruelling journey on skis,  but experts believe he more likely completed this escape on snow shoes.

Nevertheless, out of this legend sprung the race which is so popular today.

Modern day skiers don’t see the experience as an escape, they see it as a challenge and for many of them it’s a rite of passage.

And as you sit watching the TV comfortably from the sofa, with tea and toast, you take vicarious pleasure in this long, amazing Swedish race.

Ice, ice baby: 15 Swedish words for ice

Currently in the depths of winter, the Swedish landscape is covered in snow and ice.

I previously published a blog about 50 Swedish words for snow. So I became curious about how many words are there to describe ice.

I was surprised to find an enormous number of words. I guess it’s not so surprising for a Nordic country with so many lakes, rivers and waterways that there are many words to describe the different stages and shapes of frozen water.

Here are 15 of the words I found: 15 words for ice.

  1. Is – the standard word for ice
  2. Blankis – ice that shines like a mirror
  3. Nyis – ice that’s only a couple of centimeters thick and transparent
  4. Fast is – thick ice, often not transparent
  5. Issörja – when the air is cold but the water is moving, a kind of ice slop forms
  6. Tallrikis – plates of ice that form when above mentioned ice slop clusters together
  7. Pannkaksis- similar to tallriksis but formed when water with different amount of salt content meet each other
  8. Svallis – the kind of yellowish ice that freezes on mountainsides or rocky walls
  9. Drivis – large pieces of ice that float on the water and are driven by wind
  10. Isflak – a large, loose sheet of ice floating on water
  11. Rutten is – literally ‘rotten ice’, the first stage of thawing ice
  12. Skruvis – when thin ice layers itself on top of each other, like filo pastry.
  13. Istapp – icicle
  14. Svartis – black ice on the ground
  15. Glattis – an evenly compact layer of ice on the ground

What other words for ice do you know?

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Swedish ways to die #4 Death by Ice

I am continuing my look into Swedish death and have come to Part 4 – Death by Ice.

Although it’s hard to imagine when the sun is shining, and we are baking in summer temperatures, Sweden is often covered in snow and ice. This slippery, freezing covering often leads to many a treacherous way to come to a sticky end.

1. Ice bombs. Walking the streets of any town in Sweden is often a dangerous pastime. The snow and ice that forms on the roofs loosens as the weather improves or the ice gets too heavy. This leads to an avalanche of snow which plummets to the street beneath. For any unfortunate walking along the street this can mean a rendezvous with death. As the snow and the ice rushes down, it hits the walker on the head. In best case, a concussion. In worst case, a permanent surprise.

2. Ice rafts. As the frozen lakes of Sweden break up, they form sheets of ice floating on the surface. These rafts of ice occur suddenly leaving any unsuspecting person or animal trapped afloat. In best case, you are rescued. In worse case, you drown in the frozen waters.

3. Skating. A safe sport when contained to a rink, the danger increases when Swedes take their skates out onto open sea. The notion of skating close to the edge where the ice becomes water is the main thrill. But if you’ve eaten one too many cinnamon buns the ice may break beneath you, and you plunge, in worse case, to a watery grave.

4. Pavement runs. Did you know that pavements kill? Well they do in Sweden. Black ice, shifting temperatures and substandard street-cleaning combine to turn the pavements into to bobsleigh runs. Many a broken bone occurs on the lethal streets of Swedish cities. And in worse case, broken necks.

So there you have it – four very Swedish icy ways to perish.

50 words for snow!

Last year, I started a list of Swedish words for snow and lost energy at 25. This year, as the snow tanks down outside and the cities are hit with ‘snow chaos’, I decided to expand the list from 25 to 50!

Not surprisingly when living in a country where it snows a lot, people start to see differences and nuances in the type of snow, whereas in English the word might just be an unsatisfactory ‘snow’. The Swedish language makes it easy to join words together to describe these nuances.

Here is a list of 50 Swedish words related to snow.

1) Blötsnö – wet, slushy snow
2) Drivsnö – snow that is blown into troublesome snow drifts
3) Aprilsnö – snow in April, according to suspicion signifies plenty of food for the coming season
4) Hårdsnö – compacted hard snow
5) Konstsnö – artificial snow
6) Kramsnö – squeezy snow, perfect for making snowballs
7) Julesnö – snow at Christmas
8) Klabbsnö – wet, warm snow for building snowmen
9) Kolsyresnö – frozen carbondioxide
10) Kornsnö – small white snow breadcrumbs
11) Lappvante – thick, falling snow
12) Lössnö – snow that can loosen and be dangerous
13) Majsnö – surprising and unwelcome snow in May
14) Modd – snow that has partly melted due to salt
15) Natursnö – real snow (as opposed to artificial)
16) Nysnö – fresh snow, crisp and white
17) Pudersnö – powder snow
18) Rekordsnö – an unusual amount of snow, breaking previous snow records
19) Slask – slushy snow mixed with rain and dirt on the ground
20) Snö – snow
21) Snöblandat regn – snow mixed with rain
22) Muohta – the Sami word for snow (it is said the Sami actually have 200 words for snow!)
23) Snörök – faint particles of snow that look like smoke
24) Yrsnö – snow being whipped around by the wind in all directions
25) Åsksnö – snow that pours down during a thunder storm

26) Snökanon – a sudden blast of snow that suddenly hits a place, and feels like snow has been dumped on you

27) Jungfrusnö – virgin snow

28) Snösmocka – a huge amount of snow

29) Snötäcke – snow on the ground

30) Sjösnö – snow over the sea that can roll in over land

31) Snöfall – snow in the air

32) Flingsnö – snow with larger crystals

33) Skarsnö – a crispy surface on a blanket of snow

34) Packsnö – thickly packed snow

35) Pärlsnö – snow like small pearls that hurts when it hits your face

36) Snöglopp – wet snow mixed with rain

37) Spårsnö – snow that allows footprints to be formed

38) Fjöcksnö – a light, fluffy snow

39) Flister – snow the consistency of salt that stings the face when it falls

40) Flaksnö – a sheet of snow

41) Upplega – snow on the upper side of a tree branch

42) Firn – liquid-like snow that can initiate an avalanche

43) Fimmel – sandy snow that falls at low temperatures

44) Själja – a thin layer of ice on top of the snow that resembles glass

45) Knarrsnö – crispy snow that creaks when you walk on it

46) Snöfyk – wet snow

47) Torrsnö – dry snow

48) Månsilver – a poetic word to describe the dusting of snow

49) Snöis – snow on cold water that forms an icy solid surface

50) Stöp – a mixture of snow and ice resembling porridge that forms on top of cold water

What the f***! Was moving to Sweden a mistake?


I clearly remember thinking this to myself on May 13th 1995.  

I was at the airport waiting for a flight to London – my first visit home after moving to Sweden the previous autumn. 
Over the loudspeaker I heard an announcement. My flight was delayed. Due to snow. Yes, snow! Outside the window, snow billowed down on the runway and visibility was limited. In May! ‘What the f***!?’ I recall thinking. ‘Is this what it’s like here? I think I might have made a massive mistake moving here’. Eventually the flight took off and I landed two hours later in the British capital. There, in London, the sun was shining and people were walking around in shorts, t-shirts and shades. This, of course, cemented my concern. 

Now it seems as if history might be repeating itself. Yesterday it snowed in Stockholm. And haled. In May. Ok, not May 13th. But May 9th! Today more snow is forecast. And I am wondering if we’re going to break my 1995 record for the latest snowfall in Stockholm!? (Although the actual record seems to be June 12th in 1982). 

But I have learned something after 20 years in Sweden. If there is one thing we can rely on, it is that the weather does change. Have faith! The claws of winter are soon released and spring will finally and definitively be upon us. 

Sweden’s fickle weather Gods

aprilväder

Living in a country with such distinct seasons, the subject of the weather is always up for discussion. In Sweden, there is a concept known as ‘aprilväder’ or April weather. This term describes the unpredictability and fickleness of the Nordic weather gods in the month of April.

Just in the few minutes I have been sitting here looking out of my window, the sun has been shining, it has snowed, the sun has shone again, it has clouded over and got windy and then snowed again. A week ago it was around 15 degrees celsius. Now it’s around 4.

April is often a frustrating month for Swedes.

Periods of sunny, warming weather tantalise the nation and lull them into a false sense of security. Once people have put away their winter coats and folded their thick jumpers up onto the top shelf, the snow hits again and ice forms on roads. Cars with their summer tires slip and slide along and people in their short, thin spring jackets freeze, get a cold and have to call sick in to work.

You’d think we’d be used to it by now. But no. It seems to be an annual phenomenon. Maybe it’s a reflection of that most human of emotions – hope. Every year we hope that the spring has finally arrived. And usually those hopes are dashed in a flurry of snow and a plummet of the themometer.

And as I sit here and look out, it has started snowing yet again. The warm weather seems very far away.

But hope lives on and I console myself that with every snowflake that falls, we are one snowflake closer to Spring!

Sunny Stockholm Sunday

Facebook is today inundated with photographs of the great outdoors. After a long, dark autumn the sun is shining brightly over Stockholm and the sky is royally blue. Photos of people on skis, frozen lakes, rust-colored facades, glistening trees, ice crystals, chilly dogs, and snow-covered rooves abound. Like hibernating bears, the people of the Swedish capital emerge from their lairs when the sun appears. And at this time of the year, a cold, bright white sun is the perfect remedy to the winter blues. Stockholm is a breath-takingly beautiful city on these crisp, February days. So, it’s just to put on the woolly hat, the scarf, gloves, thick coat and winter boots and head outside for your shot of beauty and vitamin boost.

Here’s a picture from my walk:

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