What it’s like to wild skate on a frozen lake in Finland

What it’s like to wild skate on a frozen lake in Finland


(c) The Times UK, James Stewart


The itinerary took us east into lakeland. It was a lovely drive. The roads emptied and the scenery took over. Rust-red lakeside cabins appeared among birch and pine forest. Ahead lay Lake Saimaa – 1,652 square miles of skating opportunity.

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As I kitted up at the Jarvisydan Resort (this time with skates strapped to hiking boots), Pirjo, my guide, said she’d jacked in 20 years at a Helsinki investment bank for a new life here beside Finland’s largest lake. “I like the speed of skating, it’s more fun than Nordic skiing, and it’s a good workout. But mostly I came for the nature. It’s always beautiful here.”

It was. As smooth as fresh tarmac, the ice track stretched as a silver-blue ribbon through unbroken snow, winding past nodding reeds and a cruise boat locked in the ice, slaloming through rocky pine-clad islets into Linnansaari National Park.

Pirjo had advised me to relax and not to overthink skating. I settled into a lazy rhythm, pushing from my heels, swinging from side to side over my hips. We glided past cabins. I swished past two chaps making heavy going of it on skis. I’m not going to pretend there weren’t also some jittery moments, but if not quite flying I was certainly gliding.

That’s when I realised how convivial skating was. Pirjo chatted alongside me about ice fishermen hunched in the snowy wastes and the breeding habits of endangered Saimaa ringed seals (they build dens in snowdrifts and there are only 420 of them left). The only other sound was the rumble of steel on ice. After an hour’s swishing through a Finnish fairytale we were toasting mutton sausages over a crackling fire outside a cabin. When the wind whispered in the pines, falling snow crystals made the air sparkle.

When named the world’s happiest nation again last year, 87 per cent of Finns cited nature as its source. It provided them with peace of mind, energy and relaxation, they said. Recent research has shown that getting outdoors in winter boosts mental health as much as physical. The Finns knew this all the time. Clever them.

Just imagine how happy they’d be with sequinned skating outfits too.

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