It’s been a long held ambition of mine to take a dip in an ice hole in Finland. This February I travelled to Helsinki with this express purpose in mind. Despite being late on in the winter, the sea had not yet frozen and we had to head out of the city centre to find the elusive ice. Luckily, Lake Kuusijärvi is easily accessible by public transport and the number 739 bus from the Central Train Station delivered us into a snow-covered wilderness.
Walking down through the trees towards the cafe and sauna complex, I spotted the lake, which was completely white from snow settling on its frozen surface. An area had been sectioned off to keep thawed to provide cold water swimming for those who like to do lengths. What really caught my attention, however, was the holes that had been cut out of the thick ice, with shards scattered around them, blanketed in snow.
Lake Kuusijärvi is a great place to go ice swimming, as the set up makes it safe and easy to warm up afterwards. At this point I must highlight the fact that I have kept up my cold water acclimatisation throughout the winter with regular dips in the UK’s lakes and the North Sea at Portobello. While dipping amongst ice was new to me, and very exciting, it wasn’t such a shock, because of my training.
There are changing rooms inside the Cafe Kuusijärvi building and dressed in my bikini, robe, neoprene gloves and boots I headed outside. Wooden walkways lead the way to metal steps down into the lake, facilitating entry into the water and most importantly, exiting it too.
It’s safe to say I was all excitement at this moment and the water felt sharp and wonderful on my skin. While it was undoubtedly cold, I didn’t feel cold at any point, as the lake was well sheltered by trees and the temperature had risen in recent days. Yes, the water was -2°C, but a relatively warm air temperature and no wind to speak of made the whole experience very pleasant, or even euphoric in fact.
When asking for hints and tips on ice swimming in Helsinki via Twitter before my trip, the most sage advice I was given is that a sauna really helps with the warm up process. I can now confirm that this is true, as a cold water dip is basically illegal in Finland if it isn’t followed by a sauna and at Lake Kuusijärvi there are no shortage of options. Two electric saunas are found within the women’s section of the main building, where you’re welcome to wear your swimsuit and the nude-only smoke saunas are dotted about the woods in little cabins.
While some people like the extreme contrast of going straight from the ice-cold water into a sauna, or vice versa, I had a lukewarm shower and a bit of dancing about to get the blood flowing before heading into the heat. I’m kind to my body after a cold swim, not subjecting it to more shock than necessary, but the feeling of the post-swim sauna was well worth the wait.
The lockers at Lake Kuusijärvi are operated using a four-digit pin, allowing you to keep any valuables safe. The accompanying cafe was serving up steaming bowls of hearty-looking stews and while we only had a cup of coffee, there were plenty of options for those needing to refuel after dipping in the ice.
Lake Kuusijärvi is open for swimming year round and would be a great destination for a dip in the summer if you don’t fancy the chill factor.
For advice on how to acclimatise to cold water, check out The Outdoor Swimming Society.