Swedes may give lip service about the long, cold, and dark winters but really, it’s all for show because those who are into winter sports—and exhilarating, heart-pounding winter sports—there are few better places to enjoy them than Sweden. Winter sports are so popular that there is a week every year called ‘sport lov‘, which means ‘sport break’; schools close and people take the week off to go enjoy some of the bone-chilling sporting activities like these.
Whether it’s on the glorious mountains in Åre or the city slopes of Stockholm, Swedes love to ski and will jump on their skis any chance they get. The best thing about skiing in Sweden other than the killer after skis is that despite the limited hours of sunlight, there are plenty of lights for skiing well into the night.
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Cross country skiing
Right up there with downhill skiing is cross country skiing. Even the cities have plenty of open spaces and there is ample opportunity and space to cross country ski. There are prepared tracks as well as wide swaths of unspoiled countryside. Grab some skis, a backpack, and some supplies and set off.
Very popular up north in Lapland above the Arctic Circle is dog sledding, or mushing, that goes through hushed forests, mountains, and flatlands. A tour can cover upwards of 40km (24.9 miles) a day. Those who are new to the sport should hire guides; this is probably advisable because while Lapland is a place of unbelievable beauty, it’s also a rather unforgiving landscape and sparsely populated.
Also known as climbing frozen waterfalls, this is not a sport for the faint at heart. While it’s pretty much ice climbing, climbing up a frozen waterfall adds an extra element of danger and excitement. One excellent spot to try this out is the Abisko Canyon in Abisko National Park in Lapland. Guides are available to ensure climbers’ safety.
The Bondi Icebergs in Australia look like amateurs when compared to the winter swimmers in Sweden. Sometimes, it means just jumping in a frigid or numbing Baltic Sea; other times, it means cutting a hole and then jumping in. Either way, it’s said to be incredibly refreshing. Know your limits and understand the dangers, but it’s worth taking a dip at least once.
Kayaking and canoeing
With all the water in Sweden, it’s no surprise that Swedes are loath to stop paddling during the winter—so they don’t. If the lake or river isn’t frozen over, there’s a good chance someone will lower their boat and put their oar in. Proper clothing is, of course, necessary. Like many other winter sports in Sweden, it’s a good idea to let someone know about plans ahead of time and don’t get stranded in the dark on the water.
It might look like ice hockey, but it’s not. Or rather, it’s different. Yes, players are on skates and they do have sticks, but they’re not chasing a slow-moving puck—instead, they’re chasing a tiny ball that zooms across the ice at high speed with players zooming right after it. Its popularity continues to grow and there are calls for it to be included in the Winter Olympics. Catch a game—and maybe join in—pretty much anywhere there is ice in Sweden.
Again, the many lakes and other Swedish waterways are impossible to resist. With the abundance of fish in those waters, Swedes love to drill a hole and drop their lure. Unlike other parts of the world, Swedes keep in simple: a chair, a drill, a lure, maybe a thermos of coffee, and that’s about it. Fish in the city or in the countryside, but make sure the ice is thick enough to support the weight of a body.
Possibly the most popular sport among boys and men, ice hockey is almost a religion in Sweden with plenty of people playing and even more closely watching. Swedes tend to like to play on a proper rink, though roughing it on a lake or pond is slowly coming back in style. Rent skates all over the country and play a pickup game at one of the many indoor or outdoor rinks that crisscross the country. Note: if there’s a big international championship going on root for the Swedes—never the Finns—and make friends in no time.
Those who call curling ‘housework on ice’ have obviously never tried their hand at this challenging and ultimately exhilarating sport. More popular outside the larger cities, curling is getting more and more popular as both the Swedish men’s and women’s national teams win international competitions. There are loads of clubs to join and games to watch. Beginners can book into a rink for lessons.
With plenty of prepared and dedicated rinks in towns and cities and around the countryside, ice skating remains popular. However, figure skating has oddly never really taken off. Skates are inexpensive to buy and even cheaper to rent. Skating at indoor rinks is nice, but there is something magical about skating on a wintry afternoon as the sun disappears and big lights slowly come to life.
Long distance skating
The skates used for long distance skating are a bit longer than normal figure or hockey skates. While some like to take to a rink, many more prefer to hit the frozen lakes and waterways of Sweden. Again, be careful when going on the open water, particularly when spring is just around the corner because many Swedes have been stranded on a floe of ice and must wait to be rescued by a helicopter. Those who do try it are in for a treat: there is nothing like zooming across long distances of ice at top speed, the wind in your hair, and the silence of nature all around.
Maybe not technically a sport, but hopping on a snow mobile and plowing through the forests and open fields is great fun and quite the workout. Beginners should go with someone who is experienced and again, a guide is a good idea. Sweden’s endless swaths of empty spaces are beautiful, but they’re also quite remote and winters are unforgiving.
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