Published 17 February 2022

Winter Sports Day

Polar plunging is an unusual cultural tradition practiced in the Nordic countries. Although it may seem appalling to most foreigners, for many international students it is one of the highlights of SSHL’s annual Winter Sports Day.

Despite my hesitation, I jump in. My body is shocked by how cold the water is. I’m jolted awake. Every sense sharpens as adrenaline floods my nerves. The split second under the surface of the water feels frozen in time, and now when the crisp winter air fills my lungs I am much more conscious of it than I was before. Ungracefully, I drag myself back up onto the ice, feeling somewhat shaky, and very cold. Despite the slight physical discomfort, I feel refreshed and filled with a sense of pride: I have just completed a ritual practiced by my ancestors for millennia.

Annual tradition for the past thirty years

Breaking a hole in the ice and jumping into the freezing water has been an annual tradition for the past thirty years at SSHL. With the help of the local fire department, on site to ensure everybody’s safety, students learn how to exit the water and get back safely onto the ice. People who have experienced the “cold shock response” under safe circumstances are better prepared, and hence less likely to panic, should they ever fall through the ice accidentally.

– Since I had never tried ice swimming before I had mixed feelings: I was excited but also nervous, says student Yanna Aizhen Ye, who took the plunge for the first time at SSHL last year. When I stepped onto the edge and jumped in, the water was surprisingly warm. After getting out of the lake, I felt freezing but extremely fresh. It is an amazing way to release my stress and it was a fun experience too. I would do it again if I have another chance.

Yanna tar sig upp ur isvaken med hjälp av ispikar.

Yanna helps herself back up on the ice, supported by ice prods.

Winter Sports Day, held in February every year, offers many winter activities. The idea is to have fun but also to allow international students to experience unique aspects of Swedish culture, such as skating, bandy, and cross-country skiing. Students can also travel with the school to Romme, a ski resort in the southern part of Dalarna to try downhill skiing for the day. More tranquil options include curling and long walks in the forest, replete with grilled sausages and hot chocolate.

– Winter Sports Day is a unique opportunity for students who have never seen a ski slope before or never stepped onto ice, says SSHL’s Athletic Director Thomas Persson. Not only are the activities fun, and cool stories to tell your family and friends, but they allow students to take part in memorable experiences that are staples of Swedish culture.

Text: Noelle Norman, class IB DP 23
Originally published in: Swedish Press #2, 2022 

Below: Noelle takes the plunge into the ice cold water.