On this day...
5 years ago: Thirty months

The unfortunate coincidence of polar weather and a week-long skiing holiday led to not just very cold skiing, but also frozen water pipes at home. So now we’re making do with buckets and bottles and basins.

The kids find this an exciting adventure; I’m thinking of all the manual washing up that we’ll have to do.

When I was a child, we had no running water in my grandma’s summer cottage where we spent all our summers. We had a well in the yard, and carried buckets of water from there to the kitchen. In the kitchen, there were two buckets of water on a stand, a dipper, and an enamelled basin for washing. For baths and washing clothes, we took the train to town, to my grandma’s little one-room apartment. It seemed like the most natural thing to me, but I guess it must have been a bit of a hassle for the adults.

We had to head home this afternoon, but during the morning we had the best skiing of all week. Many guests had apparently headed home already, so the slopes were nearly empty – here and there it felt like we had the whole resort to ourselves.

I become a much better skier when I can think about my own skiing only and not about avoiding other people. For this reason I also prefer to ski ahead of the kids (and occasionally slow down to check that they’re still there) now that Adrian and Ingrid both feel confident on skis and know the slopes.

I’m happy with the whole Idre experience, despite the Arctic temperatures – except for the food. All the restaurants here seem to be stuck in the 1990s when it comes to catering for vegetarians. In the rest of the Western world, veganism is growing and even meat-eaters plan meat-free days. And here I have to eat the same boring halloumi burger every day. Not only that – it’s the same halloumi burger that I had to eat daily two years ago.

Today we lunched at the restaurant at the very top of the mountain, and they at least had a good fish soup. On the other hand, the kids’ buffet did not include a single vegetable, not even a lonely piece of cucumber or grated carrots.

This time at least we’re staying in a self-catering hut so I can cook proper food for dinner, with plenty of vegetables and generous servings to everyone. (On Tuesday, when I was exhausted by the cold and didn’t have the energy to cook, we had dinner at the hotel. The portions were so small that Adrian and I had to top up with another dinner when we got back.)

I am slightly weather-obsessed this week. Every day starts with a look at the thermometer outside the kitchen window in the hut we’re staying in. (Below –20°C again this morning.) I’m not the only one; there’s information about temperature and wind speed (and a colour-coded wind chill chart) displayed at each lift station.

Early this morning, several chair lifts were closed due to the low temperatures. I was curious if this was for a technical reason, or if it was unsafe, but it turned out to be a safety precaution: in the very unlikely event that the lift stopped and couldn’t be restarted, the staff wouldn’t be able to get everybody down in time to avoid the risk of hypothermia.

But again the afternoon brought sunshine and warmer temperatures and the –15 felt positively balmy.

Snowboarding seems to be harder on the body than skiing. While Adrian and I are getting more comfortable each day, Ingrid and Eric are more and more tired and sore. Eric took the day off and went walking instead to let his back muscles rest.

Ingrid as a beginner snowboarder needs gentle, wide slopes and plenty of time. Adrian as an adventurous skier wants forest routes, bumps and ski cross. It was rather hard to balance these two today.

With sunshine, less wind and slightly warmer temperatures, we were skiing/boarding with renewed energy today.

Ingrid was so discouraged yesterday that she switched from snowboard to skis and skipped her lesson. Today she gave it another go and afterwards announced with pride that she had learned to make turns, rather than just skidding down.

According to my teacher, I was also making “nice turns”. Even though it was just three lessons, I already have a better feeling for parallel turns and (in the right circumstances) make nice turns without having to think much about them. But I also have a list of things that I can continue practising on my own.

Did I say it was cold yesterday? I take it back. Yesterday wasn’t cold. Today is cold.

Temperatures in the Arctic are 20°C above normal, and all the cold air that should be there has ended up down in Europe instead. Plus it’s windy. There were signs posted at the lift stations to cover all exposed body parts and check each others’ noses and cheeks for frostbite.

We took the lift up to the top of the mountain just once today, and those 10 minutes were enough to convince me to not do it again. Normally when I’m out in the cold, I feel it gradually. Now I went straight from slightly cold to stiff, numb and painful, like my fingers were going to fall off. When we came back down we went straight to a warm shelter. Having thawed, we made a firm decision to stay down in the vales for the rest of the day, away from the biting cold wind.

The cold is energy-sapping, exhausting. I didn’t notice it so much during the day, but when we got back to our hut, I just collapsed into the sofa.

The photo – of the family walking off the slope to take the last lift back “home” – is from yesterday. I took no photos today; there’s no way I’m taking off my mittens long enough to take photos in this weather.

It’s Monday and the slopes are noticeably more crowded – we got a nice soft start yesterday before the rest of the winter break crowd got here.

It’s Monday and ski school starts. Adrian and Ingrid have an hour and a half in the morning, and I have a similar period in the afternoon.

Adrian continues to practise skiing, but Ingrid is learning snowboarding this year, which involves a lot of falling down and getting back up. I think perhaps she was inspired by watching Eric – it looks so effortlessly cool when he comes down the slope with beautiful turns.

Meanwhile I am taking lessons to hone my parallel turns. Many Swedes grow up with skiing holidays and by the time they’re grown, they’re all comfortable and experienced on skis. (The majority of my ski school group are foreign tourists.) Estonia has no alpine skiing tradition at all. I first stood on a pair of alpine skis in high school. The few ski trips since then haven’t really been enough to achieve any kind of proficiency. But I enjoy it, and I enjoy getting better at it.

Yesterday was cold, and today was even colder: –17°C. We’re wearing gloves inside our mittens and still the hands get cold, especially in the wind. The platter lifts move at a stately 2 or 3 m/s, which seems like nothing but turns out to be more than enough to chill the face and hands.

Another unexpected cooling effect comes from ski poles. While skiing, you hold the handles, which are made of insulating plastic. On a lift you want the poles to be well above ground so you normally hold them somewhere in the middle, on the metal part, which is not insulated at all. In the cold wind the poles acted like giant heat sinks, instantly leeching warmth from my hands even through all the mittens and gloves.


We got here quite late yesterday, but still just in time to pick up our skis and boots etc. So this morning we were out skiing/snowboarding straight away: getting used to the feeling of standing on skis again, exploring the area etc. It was tiring for both body and mind, but some hot chocolate got the energy levels back up again.

Ingrid and I were in Idre two years ago, and we liked it so much back then that Idre was our top pick for a skiing vacation. We had aimed for Idre last year as well, but the place is so popular that they were fully booked for the winter break week already three months in advance. This year I booked ridiculously early (August, half a year in advance) to make sure we didn’t end up in the same situation again.

None of us are expert skiers and we prefer easy cruising to challenging skiing, so we like ski resorts with a nice wide selection of green and blue runs. Idre has that, plus a bunch of fun stuff for the kids: a kids’ run through the forest with tunnels and bridges, a ski cross run, etc etc.

First day of winter break and we’re on our way to Idre for a week of skiing.

We’d barely started our 6-hour drive when noticed the car making unusual amounts of noise and behaving oddly in curves. The noise got worse and worse until the car sounded like a propeller plane. The rear end vibrated so strongly that the luggage piled up in the back was shaking up and down by several centimeters. We’re used to the car sometimes being noisy (the engine suspension is worn out and replacing it is not worth the expense) but this was something different, and we were getting really worried that this might indicate structural problems. Noise is inconvenient; the car breaking down in the middle of nowhere in the freezing cold would be a tad worse than inconvenient.

With incredibly lucky timing we found an auto repair shop in Falun that was open on Saturdays, and got there minutes before the mechanic shut shop for the day. He looked and poked and said it was a good thing we hadn’t driven any further, because the problem was a damaged wheel bearing. Apparently you shouldn’t drive with a bad wheel bearing – according to Google this could end in all sorts of bad ways, including the wheel falling off or totally seizing up.

In another stroke of luck, the guy called another guy who turned out to have the right kind of wheel bearing in stock. So we hung out at the repair shop while he replaced it.

We got to Idre late, but with all four wheels still attached to the car.

On their way home from school.

It makes me happy to see the kids get along with each other. Adrian is now old enough that they can laugh at the same things, enjoy the same games and have fun together more than ever before. I never had that with my brother – from what I remember of growing up together with him, he was spoiled and mean as a child. Which may or may not have been reality, but the result is that I never had a good relationship with him.