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Advent Calendar 2022: The Swedish town where people sit on ice poles for 51 hours

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards - [email protected]
Advent Calendar 2022: The Swedish town where people sit on ice poles for 51 hours

In the next article of our 2022 Advent Calendar, we share the story of Wilhelmina, the town with a famous ice-pole-sitting competition.


If you've experienced a chilly backside from sitting at the bus stop or on a park bench this winter, spare a thought for those who partake in Sweden's annual Ice Pole Sitting contest.

It is exactly what it sounds like.

Each February, people in the northern town of Wilhelmina brave the cold and dark by sitting atop 2.5-metre poles made of ice. Anyone who lasts the full length of time is a winner and gets an equal share of the 20,000 kronor prize money.

Traditionally the contest lasted 48 hours, but this was raised to 66 in 2018 before being cut back down to 51 in 2019.

The bizarre competition has been running since 1999, but 2013 was the coldest year so far, when temperatures dipped to almost -30C.

Other activities on offer at the Wilhelmina Winter Weekend include food and drink, musical performances, and ice sculptures to admire including an entire church which hosts wedding ceremonies. 


Not that the ice pole-sitters get to experience any of that, of course.

Food and drink is served to them according to a schedule, but apart from ten-minute breaks granted every three hours for toilet visits and stretching, they must spend the entire duration atop their frozen seats. And they can't use their phones or any kind of digital entertainment. An extreme digital detox indeed.

The contest draws quite a crowd. Photo: Vilhelmina Tourist Center


Doctors are on hand and can require participants to drop out of the contest if their health is judged to be in danger. But northern Swedes are made of tough stuff; in 2019 all seven participants lasted the full 51 hours, which the city's tourist information office said was the first time they could remember that no one had dropped out. And the contestants this year included one who had travelled from Texas just to take part.

After two years of cancelled festivals, the Wilhelmina Winter Weekend will be back in February 2023.

In 2023 the festival will be taking place between February 11th and 19th. One to add to your bucket list for the year?


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