Six things they don’t tell you about the snow in Sweden

The snowplough alarm clock and other snow-related things they never tell you before moving to Sweden.

Six things they don't tell you about the snow in Sweden
How to get to work if you're absolutely crazy (or Swedish). Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Coming from Scotland (a country that is no stranger to cold weather), I once naively thought the snow in Sweden would offer few surprises for me. Wrong. Here are six things they probably didn’t tell you about the cold weather here that are worth knowing.

The snowplough alarm clock

Compared to back home, Sweden does an admirable job of keeping its roads and streets clear of snow, making it possible to see crazed cyclists flying down bike lanes the morning after a night of snowfall.

What they don’t tell you is that the ploughing is often done at a ridiculously early hour in the morning, which makes perfect sense from a logistical standpoint, but is a complete nightmare if your bedroom happens to be on the ground floor, facing out onto a road.

If you’re wondering why a few folks look particularly grumpy the day after the first night of a round of snow, it’s probably because they were woken up an hour before their alarm was due to go off by clunky metal machine scraping across the ground outside their bedroom window. I speak from experience.

Good morning. Photo: Nisse Schmidt/TT

The stones, the horrible stones

A shortage of grit or sand seemed to be a yearly occurrence during the snowy days of my childhood in Glasgow, so perhaps there’s some kind of twisted karma behind me now living in a country that not only has copious amounts of it strewn everywhere, but also throws tonnes of tiny stones on top for extra measure.

The Swedish pebbles of doom do their job of providing grip pretty well, but they also have a habit of getting stuck inside your shoes, mid walk. Better still, they also appear to be sized specifically to get lodged in the underside of your boot, before dislodging on your apartment floor and attacking the bare feet of an unsuspecting inhabitant. It hurts.

Oh, and when springtime comes, the pebbles will all be sucked up to make sure that anyone who misses the snowploughs gets one last fix of noise pollution.

Horrible stuff. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

There are people who ski to work (really)

For some fitness-loving Swedes, heaps of snow isn’t reason enough to make taking public transport to work a necessity. Instead, they will literally ski to the office. This is a genuine thing.

So if you thought the peak of winter would provide a brief break from the shame you feel about how much fitter the locals seem to be than you, you thought wrong. I suspect these people are the same ones who cycle to work until the last possible moment, scooting across sheets of ice as if it’s nothing, though I have no scientific evidence to prove it. Yet.

The worst kind of person. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

Stuff doesn’t close

One of the real joys of snow in Scotland was the inevitability that the heating would grind to a halt right as the temperatures started to drop, ensuring an extra day off from school, or if you were really lucky, a day away from the office.

Not in Sweden. Unlike back home, for the most part they seem to have boilers which can stand temperatures below ten degrees here, which means that bonus day off is nothing but a distant memory. Though admittedly, there is one big benefit…

These kids not only don’t have the day off school, but they actually seem to enjoy it. Photo: Johan Gunseus/TT

The buildings are actually warm

In theory, coming indoors from the cold weather should mean a positive change in temperature, but in the UK that isn’t always the case. One apartment during my student days had a near three centimetre gap between the bottom of the front door and the frame, rendering putting the crazily expensive heating on entirely redundant, while my first flat post-university in Glasgow had a huge hole in the wooden window frame which the letting agent insisted need not be replaced. Ah, the memories.

It was pleasant to learn therefore that in Sweden, the buildings seem to have been designed to keep the elements out and keep the heat in. Heating costs are reasonably priced enough meanwhile, and I’ve yet to enter a home here which didn’t feel at least close to adequately warm, even during the coldest days.

Which is why it gets a bit old hearing friends from abroad comment that your apartment in Sweden must be insufferably cold. One Catalan friend genuinely told me she “would die” if she came to Sweden. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that shoddily built Barcelona apartments are far more insufferably cold in December. Humidity combined with two degree temperatures at night and zero insulation is not a warming experience, trust me.

Warmer than your house in Scotland (or Barcelona). Photo: Hasse Holmberg/Scanpix

The treacherous slask moats

The downside to the regular sanding of Swedish roads and pavements is that at least in Stockholm and southern Sweden it ensures the snow melts fairly well, and within a couple of days it will all have merged into a sludgy brown goo which, for some reason, seems to particularly enjoy gathering around pedestrian crossings – the one place where you’ll absolutely need to step onto the road.

I’m not entirely sure what an accurate translation for the Swedish term “slask” is in this context – slush will probably do – but I do know that I have to battle the stuff on a daily basis when it’s snowing. Attempting to leap over a moat-like puddle of the horrible brown stuff in order to make it from the road to the path or vice-versa is a risky game that can end messily, and one that the Swedes seem to be much better at than me.

A life or death situation Photo: Björn Larsson Ask/TT

Article first published in January 2017.

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Trains delayed and roads slippery in Sweden despite lower snowfall

Sweden's state-owned rail company SJ cancelled several train services on Tuesday as a result of the snowy weather, while forecasters warned that roads could still be slippery in many regions.

Trains delayed and roads slippery in Sweden despite lower snowfall

SJ is cancelling several regional trains on Tuesday between Stockholm and Uppsala, Stockholm and Västerås, and Gävle and Linköping at the request of the Swedish Transport Administration, which wants to free up space on the tracks. 

At the same time, weather forecaster SMHI warned that, while snowfall would decrease over the day, there would still be a risk of slippery roads in many areas.

“It’s still continuing to snow, but the intensive snowfall we are now warning about will come to an end during the day, starting in the south of the country,” state meteorologist Angelica Lundberg told the TT newswire.  “Over the coming days there may be an increased risk of slipping and this is the case most of all close to the coast.” 

Bengt Olsson, press officer for the Swedish Transport Administration, told SVT that the disruptions seen on Sunday and Monday looked likely to ease off on Tuesday. 

“It’s a bit calmer so far. There’s another type of road surface to day. It’s starting to freeze up a but. There’s a lot of crust from the snow and patches of ice out on the road, so its the risk of skidding that we are trying to deal with today.”

The slippery roads have led to some busses being cancelled, with Dalatrafiken, the bus operator in Dalarna, cancelling several regional bus services. 

Buses parked at the Keolis bus depot in Värtahamnen cruise terminal in Stockholm.
Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Stockholm’s transport operator SL suspended the Lindingöbanan Light-railway line on Tuesday morning, and has also reduced some commuter train services. In Söderort, Huddinge and Botkyrka all bus services have been cancelled. 

“The measures taken to prevent skidding aren’t working,” SL’s press spokesperson Andreas Strömberg told SVT. “At Juliaborg in Huddinge six of our buses got stuck, so the traffic controllers decided to cancel all further services so we can get in snow ploughs.

Snow was continuing to fall on Tuesday over much of central Sweden, and SMHI has issued the lowest “yellow” weather warning for Sörmland, Västmanland, Örebro, Dalarna, and the north of Värmland. 

In most places, there is now between 5cm-15cm of snow, with 20cm in some places.