How I learned to make and sleep in a Swedish snowhole – at minus 30C
16.11.2023 - 17:51
One British childhood winter experience remains the same, despite all the changes of the past century. It’s the one where you gaze out of the window, mesmerised by the falling snow, and start fantasising about building an igloo or a snow cave, then sleeping in it overnight. A few fortunate kids get to follow that up, but for most the fantasy is quickly quashed. The blizzard stops, the snow melts, you lob some slush at your mates then go inside to watch Ski Sunday.
Even on ski trips later in life, I discovered, childish and playful ambitions don’t get much of a look-in. It was only when I was on a summer kayak expedition in Sweden’s Saint Anna archipelago and chatted to local chef and guide Helena Hjort that I discovered other people have similar fantasies. “We started our business because we wanted to make trips that are like going away with a gang of friends,” says Helena, who runs Do the North with her old schoolmate Thomas Ohlander. “We kayak to islands where we camp – that’s our summer fun. But a night in a homemade snow cave is on the list.”
Four years and one pandemic later, Helena and Thomas get in touch. They have found a good location and done some trial runs. The night in a snow cave is a possibility. “We can’t guarantee it,” Thomas warns. “I mean, the weather and snow conditions have to be right, but we take tents and there are mountain huts in case. Meet me in the car park outside Mora station.”
During the journey up through Sweden I stop off at an underground sauna in Tuna-Hästberg, 150 miles north-west of Stockholm. This astonishing project was also started by a gang of friends looking for adventure: five teenage schoolboys who climbed a fence and began exploring an abandoned iron ore mine.
Over the years, their adventure became official: they added stairs, zipwires, tunnels, bridges, a via ferrata. It became a magical labyrinth that never lost touch with the gritty side of caving. “When we introduced cave diving,” says Dan Karlsson, one of the original five friends, “we soon realised that a sauna was essential.”
That’s how I find myself basking in 60C heat interspersed with plunges into freezing water. It’s shockingly enjoyable. They plan to open a hotel room down there too. We climb out into a snowy forest, passing animal tracks. “It’s a mother lynx and her cub who live in the mine, too,” says Dan.
A day later I meet Thomas and fellow guide Rob McNamee in the station car park at Mora, two hours north of Tuna-Hästberg.
We drive to our base, an off-grid log cabin in woods beside a frozen lake. As we arrive, the van’s temperature gauge hits -27.5C, a fraction colder than the UK record, registered at Braemar in the Cairngorms in 1895 and 1982, and again at Altnaharra, also in the Scottish