Do Russians go outside in winter?

with 7 Comments

It might get chilly but that doesn’t stop people in Chelyabinsk from going outside. And even as much of a домоседка as I am, they’ve dragged me out a few times this winter.

Here are a few popular activities that get Russians off their couches and out into the cold…


Кататься на лыжах / Skiing


There’s a true ski resort two hours away- Солнечная долина– but we took the easy option of skiing right here in the city center. Gagarin Park is gorgeous and there’s a ski rental place next to the trails.

Renting skis.
Ski rental building where we met my student (Ivan) for skiing.

We were slow skiers, sticking to a track on one side of the path. Families of skate skiers raced by us, dodging the occasional hiker. I had loved wandering through Gargarin Park in the fall and enjoy it just as much in the cold.

D and Ivan having a conversation while skiing.

This was our destination, what Ivan promised was Chelyabinsk’s biggest ski hill! He laughed and added, “Well, it felt like that when I was a kid.” Still, it was steep enough that D and I waited at the top while Ivan (and a bunch of old men on old skiis) flew down the hill and around the corner.

On the way back to the ski rental, we came across this.

For kids, maybe?

After 2 hours, we had worked up an appetite for a plate of blini and a hot coffee so we turned our skis in. The ski rental place was even busier by then and those skis were probably back on the trail within the hour.


Купание в проруби / Ice Swimming


If there’s ever a good day to go ice swimming, it’s Крещение Господне. My husband participated a few times in Ukraine but that just meant waiting in a line and then plunging into a tiny pool in the park. The Chelyabinsk version is a bit more extreme…

And because it wasn’t too cold on that Saturday (-15C?), it took three tries to find a swimming spot that wasn’t packed with people!

Our original plan was to meet up with Ivan and his wife for a dip in Gagarin Park’s small lake. But when we arrived, we saw a crowd swarming over the frozen ice. Colorful tents covered the ice holes and rescue services stood by in case of trouble. Ivan navigated his four-wheel drive car back through the snowy forest roads, onto the highway, and to a massive lake on the other side of the forest. Again, another army of swimmers.

Finally, we found the perfect spot.

There were a few skiers on the lake but no one waiting to jump in the water.

I’m afraid of frozen lakes. On one childhood ski trip, we only realized we were skiing across a lake when we heard the ice cracking underneath and we had to race the cracks to the other side of the lake. I’d been steeling myself up for walking on the ice but there was almost no need- the ice hole was right next to a dock. Lucky!

The whole thing took about 20 minutes. Ivan, his wife, and D all climbed down the icy ladder and dropped into the lake. While they dried themselves off and dressed, I took the wimpy baby step of leaning over and splashing my face with the cold lake water.

By then, another group had arrived and was waiting for their turn. We got in the car, drove back to Ivan’s apartment, and had tea (which means lots of tea and lots of snacks, of course).


Ледяные скульптуры / Ice sculptures


Ice sculptures seem like a hallmark of Russian winters.

Chelyabinsk has a bunch up in Revolution Square right now. Kids line up with their sleds, waiting for their chance to slip down two big ice slides. Lenin stands in the background, hand stretched toward the ёлка in the middle of the square.

We probably would have hung out here longer if we’d had a kid with us. (Or a sled. Or alcohol.) Instead, it was just a quick stop on the way to this very far away field.

A camel!

What do you like to do when the weather is cold? Have you ever tried skiing, ice swimming, or wandering through ice sculptures?

PS; And since we’re talking about people going outside in Russia in winter, I have to share this awesomeness with you again…

7 Responses

  1. J.T.
    | Reply

    I mostly just stay indoors)) But if there’s snow, I must absolutely go outside. And holding a snowball which is 60% snow, 30% ice, and 10% unknown material, drift around campus like a wraith, waiting for someone I know to happen by…

    • Katherine
      | Reply

      Haha, I’d have to keep an eye out for you if we were classmates! Has it been a snowy winter on your campus?

      • J.T.
        |

        We got 9 inches of snowfall one day in December, but otherwise, no such luck.

      • Katherine
        |

        That’s a lot of snow for a single day!

      • J.T.
        |

        You could almost say we got the entire season’s worth of snow in that one episode.

  2. David Emerling
    | Reply

    Quite frankly, I don’t understand the seemingly irrational Russian fascination with dipping oneself into icy water. Just how long can a human subject themselves to sub-freezing water temperatures? I know it didn’t work out very well for the passengers of the Titanic. This cannot possibly be a pleasant experience. I don’t get the point. I wonder if people don’t, on occasion, have a heart attack when their body immediately goes into shock as they submerge themselves.

    • Katherine
      | Reply

      Thanks for your comment, David 🙂 Ha, yes, it’s not something that seems like a fun experience… but there’s definitely something that attracts people to it. I think it’s the fact that they only get in for a minute and then get right out into a heavy jacket and warm admiration from their friends and family. Have you ever tried the milder version- sitting in the banya until you’re really hot, then going into a cold environment, then back to hot?

Leave a Reply