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#AdventCalendar: The Swedish town where people sit on ice poles for 51 hours

Each day of December up until Christmas Eve, The Local is sharing the story behind a surprising Swedish fact as part of our own Advent calendar.

#AdventCalendar: The Swedish town where people sit on ice poles for 51 hours
Would you dare to sit on a pole made of ice for 51 hours? Photo: Vilhelmina Tourist Center

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 this year.

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.

In 2020 the festival will be taking place between February 13th and 16th. One to add to your bucket list for the year?

Each day until Christmas Eve, The Local is looking at the story behind one surprising fact about Sweden, as agreed by our readers. Find the rest of our Advent Calendar HERE and sign up below to get an email notification when there's a new article.

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