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Short skis with skins are ancient, dating back 10 000 years. They represent skis as they were originally! Today they have been “invented” again to suit modern day winter adventurer. I tested skishoeing in lovely Pyhätunturi in the heart of Lapland.

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Skishoes are short and wide. These are only 125 cm long, up to my shoulder. They have a hairy skin integrated on the backside for grip, but only partially. The bindings works for any shoes, I had my hiking boots with a couple of woollen socks.

Skishoes are literally a hybrid of skis and snowshoes.  But as you cannot have it all, they come with some compromises. They glide as skis, but not as well as proper skis. When climbing uphill they get traction like snowshoes but not quite as well as snowshoes when it gets steeper.

For me skishoeing was a new form of winter sport. Soon after setting off I decided I love it.

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Skishoes glide surprisingly well on flat surface, you go faster than you would with snowshoes. The short size of skis makes it easy to navigate in the forest. Pyhätunturi fell with its skiing slopes is sunbathing at the background.

Nature trails in National Park

I got my skishoes for a test from Bliss adventure. As the day light broke (at nearly noon) we left for the 5 km marked path called Tunturiaapa nature trail in Pyhä-Luosto National Park.

In deep powder snow skishoes sink in the snow somewhat. Long skis would be better for floating on top of snow. But compared to snowshoes it still feels easier, in my opinion, as you don’t have to lift the whole foot up, just push the ski forward and save your sweat.

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Me after one of my many falls! It took a while to learn just how to keep balance with skishoes. Luckily snow is soft. You can’t control them as well as you can proper backcountry skis.

The trail continued through the woods and out to the open marshland in deep snow. We had a lunch break at Tiaislaavu lean-to shelter, where there is firewood for everybody.

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Lunch break at Tiaislaavu lean-to in Pyhä-Luosto National Park.

Great fun on small hills

The last leg of the round Tunturiaapa trail was full of small hills, so up and down we went. There the traction and gliding properties were really put to test. Climbing up a steep hill with skishoes is a task. The traction isn’t quite enough, snowshoes would be better. But on gentler hills they work like magic. We couldn’t resist playing around and went up and down some nice hills several times.

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This was one of the steepest hills. Skiing down such a hill with new unfamiliar toys made me nervous, but it was actually a lot of fun!

Not a new hobby

There are still people living in the Altai mountains in northern Asia who use these kind of skis with actual animal skin on the bottom. The Tuwa people have been moving on snow like this for thousands of years. Instead of two poles in each hand, they use one long pole that balances on the way up and helps manoeuvre when skiing downhill.

I recommend skishoes to anyone who loves snow sports or winter trekking. It is a unique way of moving: faster than snowshoeing, slower but more versatile than skiing.

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Photos: Joona Kivinen

Skishoes, snowshoes and fatbikes for rent at Bliss Adventure 

Visitor Centre Naava at Pyhä

Starting point of this trip on the map

There might be a chance, that you feel cold in Finland during winter, especially if you’re not used to air temperatures below zero. If so happens, find a nearby winter swimming location and dip yourself into cold water. Paradoxically coldness warms you up. Be careful though – you might end up totally hooked to the hormone boost and the afterglow of winter swimming.

Better get used to it. Ice, our friend. Photo: Lauri Rotko.

Better get used to it. Ice, our friend. Photo: Lauri Rotko.

Lakes in Finland are frozen quite a long time in a year: in Lapland usually seven, in Central Finland five and in Southern part of the country at least four months. The Baltic Sea by the coast gets its ice cover in November-December, depending on annual weather conditions, and sea ice might thaw as late as in late May.

Ice, cold water, sun and friends - what more do you need? Lake Tuusula in Järvenpää.

Cold water, ice, snow, sun and friends – what more do you need? Winter swimming club at Lake Tuusula in Järvenpää. Photo: Päivi Pälvimäki.

Winter swimming (or ice hole/pool swimming, when done in an ice hole) is a traditional Finnish outdoor activity. We know for sure that people took cold-water baths in the 17th century. Probably much earlier than that, but we don’t have any documents of those practises. First winter swimming clubs were founded in the 1920’s and since then winter swimming as an outdoor and health enhancing physical activity has become increasingly popular.

Fell brook at Kiilopää arctic spa. Photo: Suomen Latu Kiilopää/Sampsa Sulonen.

Ice pool in Kiilopuro fell brook at Kiilopää, Lapland. A true arctic spa. Photo: Suomen Latu Kiilopää/Sampsa Sulonen.

If you want to experience the most traditional custom, combine sauna going and a dip in a hole in ice. The extreme temperature change really puts your blood circulating and releases many pain-relieving and pleasure hormones. Entering into cold water straight from sauna is not the healthiest thing to do, so you ought to cool off a bit in between. Usually this happens naturally, when you walk outside in frosty air from sauna to an ice pool.

Wait, I'll do it again! Winter swimmers at Lake Lohja. Photo: Vivienne Rickman-Poole.

Wait, I’ll do it again! Winter swimmers at Lake Lohja. Photo: Vivienne Rickman-Poole.

Go slowly into water, breath slowly out and dip yourself into water as short as you like. You might feel tickling in your fingers and toes, red spots might occur on your skin and you might have difficulties to keep up your normal breathing rhythm. They are normal reactions to cold-water immersion, do not panic and run away, especially because it might be very slippery. When you come out of water, you’ll start slowly feeling better and better and better and better…and you want to go back into that freezing embrace of water. After dipping/ swimming warm up slowly and drink something warm. Cold-water immersion is a positive shock to your body. When you do it regularly you will be able to stand better stress and your immune system becomes stronger.

Frosty morning at Allas Sea Pool in Helsinki.

Frosty morning at Allas Sea Pool in Helsinki.

Winter swimming season in Finland starts when water temperature goes below 10 °C, which happens in Southern Finland in October. There are over 260 registered winter swimming locations, where you can actually swim, not just dip. In Helsinki there are 14 winter swimming locations.

Great locations for winter swimming:

  • Fell Centre Kiilopää in Lapland, Northern Finland: Coldest water ever, minus degrees. Swim in Kiilopuro fell brook and then relax in a smoke sauna afterwards. Next day you will be so energized that you’ll ski over fells in no time. The true arctic spa!
  • Allas Sea Pool in Helsinki (opens again in May 2017): Urban treasure. A seawater 25 m pool with unique city view. Also a heated fresh water 25 m pool, children’s pool, saunas and a restaurant.
  • Löyly in Helsinki: Sculptural architecture and windy winter swimming in the Baltic Sea. A beautiful smoke sauna and good food.
  • Lake Kuusijärvi in Vantaa near Helsinki: Easy access. Winter swimming training. A 25 m ice pool and saunas.
  • Winter Swimming Centre Joensuu Polar Bears in Joensuu, Eastern Finland.
  • Rauhaniemi Ice Swimming in Tampere, Central Finland.
  • Herrankukkaro in Turku area, Western Finland.

Read more:

Swimming Holidays in Finland – for bespoke swimming holidays and swimming guiding services
Wild swimming in Finland
VisitFinland/winterswimming