Helsinki darkness challenge

After taking a dip in the sea at night, a woman is halfway up the ladder getting out of the Pohjoissatama harbour onto a wooden pier. In the distance city lights can be seen and on the opposite shore is an moored icebreaker.
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In Finland, the dark season is a months-long feat of endurance that demands perseverance and a strong will to get through. Just coping, however, is not enough for true winter heroes. Can you complete the following 10 extreme darkness challenges?

1. Double dip in wintertime

What better way to toughen yourself than with a quick dip or two on a winter’s morning – without a sauna. Grab a friend and head to Tuoriniemi, Pikkukoski or Seurasaari, for example, for some winter swimming. Leave your clothes in the changing room and walk straight into the water without hesitation. After your dip, get out of the water, stand on the shore for a moment and then go back into the water. That is what we call double dipping!

Even though the second dip in the cold water may feel worse than a root canal without anaesthetics, remember that winter swimmers can brag about their achievement for the rest of the winter.

2. Imagine you are an Arctic explorer

A particularly grey morning is a great time to test whether you have what it takes to be an explorer, at least of your own life. Head to the tip of the Katajanokka peninsula, to Katajanokanranta 10, and step onto the departing Suomenlinna service ferry.

Stand at the bow of the usually empty ferry and shout into the wind as the islands of Suomenlinna loom on the horizon. Now you know what Arctic explorers must have felt like.

3. Maximise the darkness (darkness maximus)

Wednesday 21 December 2022 is the shortest day of the year. Refrain from turning on the lights in the morning, keep the curtains closed and turn off your electronic devices.

Spend the next hour in silence and remember the Finns of yesteryear who carved wooden spoons and played the kantele in the murky light of morning without any light therapy lamps or capsule coffee makers.

Remind yourself that after the winter solstice, you will have three minutes less time to enjoy the darkness each day.

4. Let the poetry flow

Those who always take the easier path will get through the winter by complaining about it incessantly to anyone who lends an ear, but a true winter hero will also find a reason to exalt the season.

On an icy cold day, head for the Laakso riding stadium in Helsinki’s Central Park (Keskuspuisto). There you will find the start of the 2.5-kilometre Laakso trail that is marked by poems written in the Japanese haiku tradition.

When you get home, compose your own haiku to the Helsinki winter and that you can recite at the start of your next video conference or during a coffee break at work.

5. Run through the slush like a parent in their busy years

If it snows in Helsinki these days, it is usually sleet and melts away quickly. So seize the rare opportunity when it arises and test your nerves in a simulation of the “busy years” of a typical local parent with small kids and always too much to do.

Grab your own stroller, or borrow one from a friend, and head out onto the streets of Helsinki for a true adventure. As you step over the piles of slush, you can test not only your agility and hand muscles but also your mental toughness. If you really feel up to the challenge, try singing lullabies and children’s songs at the same time!

In the distance a few people can just be seen walking through very thick fog along the walkway that links Uunisaari and Liuskasaari. The branches of a bare tree protrude from the right of the photo, and you can't see the sea at all either side of the walkway because of the dense fog.
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6. Simulate Helsinki in wintertime

Is it another mild day outside? Was the sun shining in the morning? Did you not even have to pull on your long underwear? It is time to put yourself to the test and face the winter in Helsinki as we know it.

Dampen your socks, put on your shoes and fill your shirt with ice cubes. Step onto the balcony or go outside, moisten your face with water from a spray bottle and enjoy the tingling sensation for a quarter of an hour. That is how fresh the spirit of Helsinki feels in wintertime!

7. Test your fitness by climbing to the summit

A chilly winter evening offers the perfect opportunity to take an uplifting fitness test. Head to the 91-meter-high landfill hill in Malminkartano and locate the longest flight of steps in Helsinki.

The steps start from the east side of the hill, and there are no less than 426 of them. You can check by counting as you climb to the top. Once you reach the summit, raise your arms and let out a cheer. Also, be sure to congratulate any other climbers who make it to the top.

8. Fight against the wind

If the meteorologist forecasts strong winds in Helsinki reaching up to ten meters per second, it is time to test how windproof you are.

Head to one of Helsinki's windiest places – an island, the harbour or even the corner of the Sanomatalo and Postitalo buildings in the city centre. Bring a thermos of coffee or cocoa, drink it in the wind and greet passersby with a smile. You do not feel it anywhere – do you?

9. Try the winter version of high-intensity interval training

Winter is the best time for consuming carbohydrates, so why not try the winter version of high-intensity interval training, or HIIT for short: eat a large serving of light pasta with cream sauce, two slices of white bread and a large glass of mineral water. For dessert, eat two sweet buns, or maybe three.

After your meal, lie down on the couch and drum Darude’s Sandstorm on your bare stomach at double the speed. Remember to video the performance.

10. Go on a walk and hug a tree

Activate GPS on your smartphone and plan a walking route in the shape of a heart. Start from Kaisaniemi Park, where some of the biggest trees in central Helsinki can be found. Hug the solid oak tree growing through the terrace of the Kaisaniemi Restaurant – or as much as you can hug an oak with a diameter of over 6 metres.

Post on social media both the heart-shaped map and a picture of yourself hugging the tree with the hashtags #winteristhebest and #happyblessedgrateful!

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Teaser text
In Finland, the dark season is a months-long feat of endurance that demands perseverance and a strong will to get through. Just coping, however, is not enough for true winter heroes. Can you complete the following 10 extreme darkness challenges?