Winter fun plus a survival training

27012010305 We have a beautiful, real winter here in Finland. The weather I just desire: stable negative temperature never creeping to zero, enough snow for any winter fun – about which I may blog more some time later. One of the cool things to do this time of the year is to ski, skate, walk or cycle over the frozen water. For example, last cold (or, better say, just normal) winter of year 2003 we cycled from the Åland archipelago to the continental Finland. When not going this far, I regularly ski around the Suvisaaristo islands next to which I live (recorded route here). Moving over ice is great!

But what if the ice breaks and you fall in the zero degrees cold water?

There is a simple answer: try this before it hits. Your chances to get out alive become higher. Read on for the boring theory and a short report of how I did this recently in a mild -17°C afterwork evening.

The first thing to really understand is that this can happen. If you ever move on the ice, this can happen to you. I learned it from my own experience.

So, the second thing is to be prepared. In this case, being prepared is relatively easy.

There is a general “smart” advice: do not panic, know the theory, act calm and fast. Anyone who had ever been in a stress situation knows that the latter can’t be just easily followed. When the life is at stake, all your skills can degrade in one moment down to what is learned in practice. So – just do it.

  • Find an ice opening, where you can safely get out. In Finland, we have maintained winter swimming spots which are perfect for this task
  • Call a friend or two who will pull out your body on a rope in case something gets really wrong.
  • Make sure they actually can do it – test this on the ground first; one should be reasonably fit in order to be able to lift a person of similar weight.
  • Prepare full change of the clothes, including shoes. (Never attempt such fun disrobed. You can cut yourself with ice edges.)
  • Read more theory below.


It’s nice to practice next to a warm place – a house or a car, which you can jump into after the exercise. But in fact I recommend doing it without such possibility. Getting out of the water is just first stage of your game; second, maybe equally dangerous and sometimes underestimated stage is recovering your warmth afterward. Climbed out, one may fall in an euphoric feeling “I did it” and end up with frostbitten extremities. (For ones looking for real horror pictures of frostbitten hands, see bottom of this page. And the story started innocently: small dipping in water in the cold.) You’ll know fascinating details: wet shoelaces freeze and you can’t take the shoes off; zippers freeze and do not open; and so on. Reading about such issues from a computer screen does not always deliver the idea that this is serious.

One more “do-and-do-not” list:

  • always carry awls with which to climb out of the opening back to the ice (pictured above; jäänaskalit in Finnish; I wonder how is it called in English or Russian). In some cases, it may be impossible to climb out, as the ice may be slippery and your hands just slide helplessly. They must be hanging on the neck, not in a backpack or a pocket.
  • always carry some spare clothes. Full set is the best; at least something is a must. It must be packed so that it stays dry after your potential bathing
  • climb out to the direction you came from
  • when got out, immediately do whatever you can to the wet clothes (in 15 minutes, it may be already too late) – change it if you have change, wriggle it as good as you can otherwise
  • never take alcohol or anything like that.


So, how was it in practice? Pretty cool. Real winter fun (with necessary precautions). Unfortunately, the water level in our test lake was lower than I expected – just up to shoulders, so I could actually stay and push myself up. This made climbing out easier than it might have been. I climbed first time without pulling the awls out; but I guess the possibility to jump on the bottom makes a huge difference. After that, I decided to still test the awls and crashed ice edge the second time. Naturally, it was even easier.

Now I would like to repeat the exercise in a place where I do not reach the bottom with feet. And of course getting a bit nicer pictures does not harm. It may be not immediately clear without explanation, that the picture to the left shows a floating object in the ice opening, and that this object is in fact me giving a short lecture on how it feels.

2 thoughts on “Winter fun plus a survival training

  1. Car driver must practice in first aid after a road accident.
    Kayaker must practice to escape (or stand up) after a turn over.
    Skier must try to get out of icy water.
    What’s more?

    Rock climber must learn to work around broken rope.
    Parachutist must train to survive after a parachute failure.
    Minesweeper must have expertise of self-gathering…

    • In fact the first aid provision is something I’d love to learn. Of course in practice – meaning, doing it in a class to a “hurt” person under a competent supervision. This is something I’m completely ignorant in.

      Escaping from a kayak is trivial 😉 and I could never manage a stand-up. I did not do any rock climbing in my life (that’s a miss). Further analogies are funny. Another friend of mine came with comparison to a Russian roulette – that was even more empathic 🙂

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