It’s the time of year when there is much talk of ice.
This isn’t talk of icy roads and the local council not sanding them properly (there isn’t usually ice on the roads here because the snow doesn’t melt during winter). No, this talk of ice is to do with snow scooters, and fish.
We are just coming into the season of ‘spring winter’. There are eight seasons here, and ‘spring winter’ begins in March and is generally thought by the locals to be the very best season. It is a time of year when temperatures – while still way below freezing – are higher, and there are plenty of hours when the sun’s rays are warm. This is the time of year to take the snow scooter for a spin over the frozen lake, or pull up a chair on the ice, bore a hole down to the water, and wait for the fish to bite. It’s hard to beat the pleasure of a picnic on the ice – the brightness and the warmth, the colour of the blue sky and blue-tinged hills, and the fresh clean air. Don’t bring swimming costume, shorts, and sun top; do bring sun lotion, sunglasses, and very warm coat and boots.
Snow scooters are a local obsession. They are noisy and dirty, but they come with a built-in thrill factor, and aspiring to the latest model is a common form of status envy. Ice fishing, on the other hand, lacks the thrill factor, is completely sedentary, and doesn’t increase one’s status in any noticeable way (unless you succeed in winning one of the big ice fishing competitions where the first prize might be a snow scooter).
Both these activities require a frozen lake, something which is usually easy to come across at this time of year. But this year there may be a problem. This is not because we recently had a heatwave for a few days and the temperature went above zero. It’s because there has been much more snow than usual, and a good deal of it fell early in the winter, in November and December when the ice was still forming. This means that the top layer became a mixture of snow and ice which never really froze properly. Beneath that is a layer of proper ice but, because of the thick blanket of snow, the ice will not have extended as deeply as it would have done otherwise.
This doesn’t necessarily mean the ice will be dangerous to walk on, but it means that in some places the top layer, being a mixture of snow and ice, may easily collapse, giving one the uneasy sensation of sinking, causing possible leakage of water into your boots, or causing your snow scooter to sink into a slushy mess, which will not do much for your boy racer image. Fishing on the lake may be a wetter and colder activity than one would have liked, and fishing lying on one’s back on the ice may no longer seem such an attractive option.
I am told these problems with the ice do not apply to the larger lakes, where the freezing process will have happened after the snowfalls at the end of last year. This is good news for Kiruna’s ‘ark’ community who generally gather out on Torneträsk, a large local lake. (An ‘ark’ is a mobile fishing hut which provides shelter from the winds, a trapdoor through which you can drill a hole in the ice, and a stove nearby so the fish can leap straight out of the ice and into the frying pan.) Torneträsk is also where we will be heading for our traditional spring picnics, so that’s good news for us too.
The snow and ice combination isn’t all bad though. While not providing a good foundation to create a solid ice floor, it has other qualities, used to great effect nearby. The Ice Hotel isn’t actually made of ice at all. It has ice sculptures in it, and there are ice blocks around, but its main structural walls are made from a kind of arctic version of wattle and daub – snow and ice. These components mixed together form a very strong substance which can be shaped into moulds, and will then stay solid and frozen. They call this substance ‘snice’…..