I’ve known for a few years now that Kiruna’s ‘Snow Festival’ isn’t aimed at visitors, but this year it was clearer than ever.
Every year it’s the same – you can’t find a programme until the day before, half of the events aren’t described so you don’t know what they are (and there’s very little in English), and anyway when it comes to the day only some of them actually happen. Also, the things that most visitors would expect at such a festival aren’t there – such as beautiful things involving ice and snow, displays of local culture, activities involving reindeer, and expensive places to consume local food and drink.
To be fair, there was the ‘ice sculpting’ competition again this year. It’s a snow sculpting competition actually, but let’s not split hairs. We usually like this part of the festival. We only saw three sculptures, and only two of these really counted since one had barely seen a chisel. The snow blocks this year seem to have been picked up off the roadside and instead of pure white they were sort of dalmation-flecked. It rather detracted from the beauty of the sculptures. But fair enough, a couple of them were worth looking at.
Also, there were no reindeer but there were sled dog rides. For ‘culture’ you’d have to look at some stalls selling handicrafts in ‘Folket Hus’. This included someone selling toilet roll holders decorated with elk, if that counts as local culture. And there was a hot dog kiosk, and that’s very local.
It was around minus 30 degrees which wasn’t ideal, but there were enough people in town to make a small festival. Still, very few of them were around the activities described above. Instead they were all crowded round a small area of the main square. Someone was speaking into a loudspeaker system – some kind of competition was taking place, though we couldn’t see what it was through the crowds.
After seeing the cascade of snow falling above the crowd, and listening to the commentary, we worked out that it was a competition between three different makes of snow blower. What else would you have at a snow festival than a snow blowing competition?
A snow blower clears a path by sucking up the snow and shooting it over your neighbour’s fence (or if you’re more careful, shooting it into a neat pile next to your own fence). This is the modern day alternative to snow shovelling. We have considered it many times, but rejected it on the basis that it’s expensive, uses petrol, and would rob us of the opportunity for lots of good exercise and equal amounts of complaining about all the exercise. It’s considered a must-have item for locals, but we don’t have one.
So, what they did was, they cleared the main town square of snow. Then they built up three large piles of snow in the middle of square. Then they set three men to work (not that you have to work much using a snow blower – you just have to stand there and press the button) very slowly moving the neat compact pile of snow, spraying snow into the air in the process. The crowds stood there for over an hour in minus 30 degrees, watching three men move three metres through a pile of snow, allowing the snow blowers to spray a constant stream of very cold snow down their necks the whole time.
You can see my point – this isn’t a festival that’s going to appeal to visitors is it?