ARCTIC STORIES: By midwinter, Finland’s 187 888 lakes and much of the Baltic Sea are covered with ice. Beneath the blanket of ice, you will find wellbeing, fresh delicacies and even start-up money.
When temperatures go down below freezing, swimming is maybe not the first thing that comes to mind. Yet thousands of Finns head to holes in the ice to slip into water.
Devotees claim that ice swimming, or rather dipping into holes cut in the ice, is a very Zen experience. It relieves stress and helps you sleep better.
Research confirms what the ice swimmers have long insisted: immersing oneself in glacial water has many positive health effects. Regular exposure to cold water improves circulation and lowers blood pressure.
Winter swimming is also a serious sport, with national championships, records and statistics, but the popular activity is accessible to everyone. All you need is a hole in the ice. Do not be afraid to take the plunge.
If ice swimming is a form of exercise, ice fishing is a form of meditation. You set up your gear on the ice, drill a hole, take the rod and drop the lure into water. Then you sit back and enjoy.
In Finland, even fishers want to use the best available technologies. Fishing sonars, flashers and sophisticated baits are gradually replacing the old-fashioned ice fishing equipment. As to the traditional hot beverage, many still prefer to drink their steaming coffee from the cup that comes with the old thermos flask.
The reward is of course the catch. Perch is the most common game species, but with luck, you can also catch pike, trout and whitefish.
The taste of winter fish is extraordinary, affirms one fishing enthusiast and brags about the eight kilos of crispy perch he brought home last weekend after a sunny afternoon spent on the ice of the Bothnian Bay.
Under ice, you can even angle for business financing. Polar Bear Pitching is an ice-breaking pitch event that takes place every February in Oulu, Finland. It offers start-ups an indisputably cool stage for pitching: a hole cut through the ice in the frozen Baltic Sea. Companies promote their business ideas in the freezing water. Investors are happy, as the pitches are efficiently short.
The event also attracts an enthusiastic audience – this is maybe the only place in the world where you can hear pitches that are literally breathtaking.
Polar Bear Pitching on 6-7 February, 2018. Sign up for livestream here
Photo credits: 1) VisitFinland (c) Aku Pöllänen, 2) VisitFinland (c) Vastavalo/Eemeli Peltonen, 3 and 4) Polar Bear Pitching (c) Henri Luoma.