Varning! Isvak!

The river Skellefteälven between Skellefteå and the coast of the Baltic Sea. That particular place is called Stackgrönnan. On warm summer weekends the café is quite crowded. In winter it’s closed.

This sunday however the small snow covered way is crowded, even though it’s mid-January. Many cars are parking, many people are standing around, warmly dressed for winter. Some of them have bags or rucksacks with them.

The Skellefteälven is completely frozen and covered with snow. Snowmobile tracks lead to the opposite riverside. On the river ice there are signs round a cordon.

They say “Varning! Isvak!” – “Warning! ice hole!”. And there is an ice hole indeed, four square meters big. Some people stand around with spearlike tools and remove the last thick ice blocks from the hole.

So that ice hole seems to have a purpose and it has: It’s an ice hole maintained by the association Mörkrets och Kylans Glada Vänner, or in english Happy Friends of Cold and Darkness.

I’ve been member of this association almost from the beginning and had the pleasure, honour (, and work) of being part of the organisation team for the very first Swedish Winter Swim Championship in Skellefteå in 2012. It was the coldest day of the winter with temperatures below -30 °C, but that’s another story …

Back to the plot: All people have come to take a winter bath or at least to cheer to those who do. Annika and I have winter-bathed before but not yet this winter. We aren’t the only one’s who want to take a bath, there are at least 30 others and the changing rooms are stuffed with people, some wearing winter parkas and warm boots, others just their swimwear and a cap. The same outside: Woollen mittens and down jackets on the one side, wet semi-nude bathers with towels on the other side.

And what is in the ice hole? One winter bather after the other. First looking tensed or even shocked, since the water temperature is round 0 °C (and yes, that’s cold!), then relaxed and happy because the body releases endorphins. But have a look by yourself:

After the last bather – most people and cars already have gone – wintry silence starts to set in again. The snow covered tables and benches are still untouched and the fairy lights round the big flag pole are on. Temperature is -11 °C. If you ask me, a perfect winter day.

Appendix one

On 17 February 2018, the Open Scandinavian Championship which is a part of the World Cup will be held in Skellefteå for the seventh time. And you can apply!

Appendix two

Evidence photos of me in the ice hole? Thanks to Annika, who took photos with her mobile they exist. Var så god: