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The winter we have waited for

Sunrise over the frozen bay

Winter beauty from Vaasa in Finland – photo by Malcolm Pemberton

Winter in the Far North can sometimes be something of a challenge, even for those who were born here. When I say ‘Far North’ I am referring to Vaasa in Finland, where I live, which lies at 63 degrees north. This is, in fact, two degrees further north than Anchorage in Alaska, but still three and a half degrees short of the Arctic Circle, or some 210 nautical miles. Those who live in Rovaniemi, the commercial centre of Santa Claus and roughly on the circle itself, probably refer to those of us from Vaasa as softy southerners. By the way, Santa doesn’t actually live in Rovaniemi, that’s just where his office is; he actually commutes from his home in a village called Korvatunturi in eastern Finnish Lapland (68° 04′ 27″ N, 29° 19′ 35″ E).  The most northerly town in Finland is actually Utsjoki at 69.5 degrees. This far north the sun sets in early December and doesn’t rise again until mid-January.

This year we were actually complaining that the snow still hadn’t come to stay at New Year. Last year the snow arrived in the second week of October and stayed till late April. When it is snowy all is white and wonderful, as in the photo above; the long nights don’t seem so dark as the streetlamps reflect off the snow; and it doesn’t rain, so you don’t need an umbrella and your feet never get wet and muddy. Once the snow has been cleared into neat ridges at the roadside, driving is easy, even in the dark. A permanent layer of compacted opaque snow forms on all but the busiest of roads, providing good grip for our studded winter tyres.

Temperatures here can drop to -35 degrees Celsius, but life continues, people get to work, cars run and buildings stay warm. To be fair, in Vaasa, the temperature is normally between -10 and -20 degrees during the winter proper, and with proper clothes the outdoors can be enjoyed. The snow and the sea-ice provide many opportunities, like cross-country and downhill skiing; skating, driving snowmobiles and even cars on the sea-ice. There are one or two ice-yachts here, and occasionally a personal hovercraft.

A few weeks ago there was no snow, it was dark, cold, wet and windy, and I felt like heading off to warmer climes. Now, even though it is ten degrees colder, it feels like another world and I’ve brought the skis out of storage and am looking forward to picnics on islands reached over the frozen sea.

I don’t envy those putting up with the rain back home.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sartenada
    Feb 22, 2012 @ 16:44:51

    Perfect photo!

    Reply

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