Traditional outdoor winter activities become more difficult


In Southern Finland in particular, outdoor winter activities dependent on snow and ice will become more difficult. Cross-country skiing is particularly sensitive to climate change while possibilities to downhill ski will most likely be sustained better. With respect to skating, the significance of frozen ice rinks will be further emphasised. If darkness and slippery roads will not prevent it, jogging is expected to increase.

Amount of snow and ice will decrease

In addition to freezing of the waterways, outdoor winter activities are affected by air temperature, number of snowy days and depth of the snow. Climate change will increase winter temperatures in particular, and reduce the likelihood of extreme cold weather. [1] Although the change is more severe in the south than in the north, the amount of snow will be reduced nationwide. Compared to the current situation, there will be less snow during the early winter and spring in particular. [2]

Although winters are expected to become milder and shorter, the best conditions for outdoor winter activities will remain in Northern and Eastern Finland. In Central and Western Finland, the winter season will become shorter, and towards south, arrival of winter becomes ever more uncertain. In Southern Finland, the snow cover becomes thinner and snowy days will be reduced the most. [3]

Will cross-country skiing disappear?

With respect to winter sports, cross-country skiing is considered particularly vulnerable to climate change. In the southern part of Finland, the thinning snow cover and decreasing number of snowy days will have direct impacts to skiing. If the temperatures remain low enough, cross-country skiing can continue in Southern Finland with artificial snow and storing snow. However, use of artificial snow can change cross-country skiing into a hobby subject to a charge. In addition, skiing may be less enjoyable when the scenery next to the artificial snow track is bleak and grey. Thus, skiing is estimated to concentrate to Northern Finland in the future. [4]

People's skiing behaviour, in Southern Finland in particular, can change in a range of ways due to the declining snow situation: even if cross-country skiing would remain an annual hobby, trips to go skiing might be made more seldom. On the other hand, some people may discontinue the hobby altogether when the time and money needed for the skiing trips increase. [4]

Children skiing outdoors in Helsinki.

© Tapio Heikkilä

Climate change has been found to cause inequality in having skiing as a hobby: when the costs of the hobby increase, possibilities to have skiing as a hobby for women, people with a lower socio-economic status and those living in cities will be reduced. In addition, the number of skiers in the future will greatly be affected by children having ski tracks available near their home so they will not lose their skiing skills. [3] [5]

Downhill skiing continues

Since the sport is already used to the use of artificial snow, downhill skiing is estimated to be less vulnerable to climate change than cross-country skiing. For the survival of the sport, maintenance of small downhill skiing centres in Southern Finland is of key importance. Near cities, downhill skiing centres are notable producers of new skiing generations: a short distance to a centre attracts people to the sport more often and creates interest to bigger slopes. Thus, continued operation of downhill skiing centres in Southern Finland can have a positive effect on the number of skiers travelling to Northern Finland. [4] Although increasing use of artificial snow on the slopes may help downhill skiing centres to adjust to the climate change in the future, at the same time it increases their energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions if the energy used to create the snow is produced with fossil fuels.

Snowmobiles have to stand aside

In the future, having snowmobiling as a hobby is uncertain. As the snowy season shortens, the season for snowmobiling is affected and a thinning snow cover in Southern Finland in particular can prevent this hobby altogether. Since the use of artificial snow for snowmobile tracks would require several snow cannons, it is not financially and logistically profitable. In all likelihood, snowmobiling will be concentrated to Northern Finland in the future. Elsewhere, snowmobiling will be replaced with other recreational activities. [6]

From natural ice on to the ground

In addition to the snow conditions, climate change will have an impact on the extent and thickness of the ice cover, so moving around on the ice will be limited. Moreover, bodies of water will be covered with ice later and thaw earlier. Walking, skiing, skating and ice-fishing on natural ice are popular outdoor activities and their attractiveness and safety will be reduced as the climate warms. [7]

Luckily, many activities on ice can also be performed on land or, alternatively, be replaced with open water activities. For example, if ice-fishing is no longer possible, open water fishing may be increased. [8] In addition, many sports, such as canoeing, benefit from the bodies of water remaining open for longer.

Skating is a winter sport that most clearly requires ice and that both suffers and benefits from the climate change. As the natural ice become thinner, trek skating must be limited. If the carrying capacity of the ice is uncertain, ploughing tracks on the natural ice for trek skating will become difficult. For their part, trek skaters must plan their trips carefully and locate possible dangerous locations from the bodies of water with even more precision than before. [9]

Skaters on the ice of Lake Tuusulanjärvi.

© Tarja Hoikkala

Games played on ice such as ice-hockey, bandy and ringette are not at risk, since these sports have relied on iced ice rinks and indoor ice-skating rinks for quite some time already. In addition to rinks, in the future, trek skating tracks can be made to those who are not interested in ice games. [4] By providing more and more diversified ice-skating possibilities, skating can even become more popular, particularly among those people who are looking for a replacement hobby for another winter sport.

Slippery conditions and darkness can hinder outdoor activities

As the possibilities for activities dependent on snow and ice become scarce, it must be ensured that conditions for other outdoor activities are good. For example, provided that the walking tracks are in condition, popularity of Nordic walking is likely to increase. [4] In Southern Finland, road maintenance becomes easier as long warm periods become more common and slippery road conditions and snow are reduced. On the other hand, elsewhere in Finland, slippery conditions become more difficult when temperatures close to zero become more common. [10]

As the number of snowy days decreases, darkness during the early winter is emphasised. In most cases, cities have sufficient lighting but in more outlying areas, darkness can hinder outdoor activities. On the other hand, for most people, jogging on the illuminated city streets does not provide an adequate refreshing experience, while moving outdoors in the nature has been found to relax and provide refreshment more than exercising in built environment. [11] Therefore, it is important to cater for the lighting of nature trails and outdoor tracks.