No snow for skiing – a real problem or not?

Ilkka Heinonen, Academy Research Fellow and former Collegium Researcher, Faculty of Medicine, Turku PET Centre

It should be winter time and many people would love to ski, but there is currently simply no snow for skiing. Luckily this is not a problem as we have ski tunnels, such as one in Paimio very close to Turku. Even people from Helsinki region drive there during the weekends to enjoy skiing.

Cycling pathways are now often icy and have sand and even small rocks, but skiing can also be done with roller skies. Impivaara in Turku is great place for this even if there is no snow. Too few skiers go there, but everyone should try!

Any physical activity such as walking or cycling is good for our health, but cross-country skiing appears to be especially good exercise for us. Even science supports that cross-country skiing is associated with lower incidence of diabetes and hypertension, and ultimately even lower all-cause mortality. A recent study published in Psychiatric Research also indicates that people who participate in long-distance skiing events such as Vasaloppet have lower incidence of depression, as well as low all-cause mortality.

No snow is not a problem to enjoy all great health and fitness benefits of skiing, as rollers skis are a great alternative even during winter time.

The health benefits of cross-country skiing are thus phenomenal and this is likely due to the fact that cross-country skiing is natural interval exercise training that activates basically all our muscles, making it great cardiovascular exercise. It is also fairly easy for our joints as compared to running for instance. It is classical endurance/aerobic type of activity, but also includes a strength component. This is especially important for our arms, back and abdominal muscles, which we do not normally activate that much when walking or even when we run. Activating all possible muscles is important, as exercise-induced improvements, for instance in tissue metabolism, are specific to the muscles that are being used. Therefore it would be wise to take and use your ski poles at least whenever having a walk if you do not fancy skiing.

So skiing, real skiing not alpine skiing, is great exercise, but is it really a big deal if we do not have real winters anymore due to climate change? As driving a car is not health-promoting activity, one could say it is now easier to continue to cycle to work. Less energy is also consumed when it is warmer, to heat houses and so on. They also say warming would be good for Finnish agriculture, so why bother?

It would of course be too selfish to think only of human and local activities in the face of climate change. How about those animals that need snow cover or ice for their normal breeding? Millions of people are suffering from drought and different extreme weather conditions. The sea level has been predicted to rise and numerous large cities are therefore threatened. Climate change specialists could likely continue this list by other serious scenarios.

EU data shows that last year (2019) was the hottest ever in history in Europe. According to United Nations the last five years have been the warmest five years ever globally. Recent scientific findings reported also in national newspapers tell that oceans are warmer than ever, global warming is accelerating and that especially winters are affected. No wonder we do not have snow.

Many people would love to ski when it is winter. Hundreds of skiers therefore go to ski tunnels when you cannot ski outdoors. The ski tunnel in Paimio is closest to Turku, but there is also one in Uusikaupunki. Overall we have currently only few ski tunnels in Finland, which is very little compared to ice hockey halls for instance. Skiers in ski tunnels are mostly not at all elite skiers, but normal exercisers or beginners, so give it a go!

So not being able to ski on snow is not a real problem, but lacking snow this time of the year (mid January) is a reflection of a much more worrying change that has occurred globally. Getting back on track is not going to happen rapidly, and does not even happen without actions. Individuals can have an effect with their choices, but national and global political actions are certainly needed. If you think something should be done but feel too weak to act ourselves, maybe next time in elections vote for those persons who really want to contribute to the change, even if that is not going to advance your own immediate benefits. This might be the only way our great-grandchildren or generations after them can also enjoy skiing outdoors on natural snow.


Ilkka Heinonen
Academy Research Fellow, Turku PET Centre
TCSM Collegium Researcher 2016-2019

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3 Responses to No snow for skiing – a real problem or not?

  1. ahduff says:

    Thank you for the tip about ski tunnels.

  2. Minna Santaoja says:

    Thanks for this post. There is a research project coordinated at the University of Turku that might be of interest: Healthy Lifestyles to Boost Sustainable Growth (STYLE), funded by the Strategic Research Council at the Academy of Finland,

  3. How much is the difference between regular skiing and alpine skiing?

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