Suohpahtjavri, Kautokeino, Norway, 2 April 2009: I was leading a winter art workshop for students of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Lapland and the Sámi University in Kautokeino. As I was leaving for an evening walk from our accommodation by the lake, I mentioned to my colleague Timo Jokela that I might do some sort of environmental art in the forest on the opposite shore. “Why don’t you take that saw with you,” Timo urged. I took the saw, walked across the lake, and sawed a few curved pieces of the snow that wind had piled on the bank. I placed the pieces in the landscape in different ways and took photos. This was the beginning of a series called Snow Plays that has grown every spring. 

Saukko-Oja, Rovaniemi, 21 April 2010: Spring after spring, I would ski to a watch the mating play of Western capercaillies in the heart of an old forest. But one time it was no more. When the forest road opening appeared in front of me, I first thought I had skied astray. Gradually, the crushing truth penetrated my consciousness: that was where the centre of the lek mating ceremony, its most important point, used to be. The capercaillie no longer raised its black tail into a magnificent fan. In the following winters, forest machines arrived to fell trees along the sides of the road. Later, I have blamed myself for keeping the location of the lek mating place on state land a secret. 

Pissikorpi, Rovaniemi, 14 April 2011: One of the late winter routines of a skier and a sawyer is following weather forecasts. In his backyard and wherever the skier goes, he pokes the snow on the side of trails and the surface of the snow layers, studying the changes in the composition of the snow. The density of the snow surface layer increases towards spring, mainly due to repeated thawing and freezing. It takes time for the density to increase. Finally, one frosty morning, the snow crust is strong enough to carry you. On the surface of the snow there are small, icy bullets, like ball bearings that the skier can race on, as if there were no friction. 

Kierivaara, Rovaniemi, 21 April 2013: Spring is the time of fowls: the Willow Grouse will burst its primitive laughter into the air all through the night, and the lucky ones may hear the roar and grind of the Western Capercaillie even in the twilight, and the Black Grouse get excited and rumble on their lek mating swamp as the sun rises. If there is some new snow, the skier can follow the traces in the snow to see how fierce the lek battle and how flaming the love have been. 

Pikku Mellalampi, Rovaniemi, 1 April 2014: On most days, the surface of the snow will melt and become soft as the day gets warmer. If the temperature stays below freezing, you may be able to ski on snow crust even in the evening. The spell of the morning and the morning light will vanish as the sun rises higher, while in the evening the atmosphere thickens as the light fades. I was sawing the snow in the darkening April evening and remembered that in May the year before, the Arctic cloudberry was already blooming, a Wood Sandpiper was singing and I hung a ladle of birch bark I had made on a birch branch.  

Pikku Mellalampi, Rovaniemi, 11 April 2015: It was the first time I took the dog with me on the spring snow. The surface crust can be so rough that it will be hard on the dog's paws. Indeed, I saw some blood at the edges of Pablo's paws. However, the dog did not seem to mind. On several occasions I had to strictly forbid it from touching the snow triangles the master had sawed; this was my game, and the dog was only allowed to watch. The triangles were climbing up towards the blue sky between the pines. To build, to reach higher, to climb together with nature or by exploiting it, abusing it? 

Vennivaara, Rovaniemi, 1 April 2016: “When we remember times and places, we remember ourselves,” says author Leena Krohn (1993, p.82). Cultural geographer Pauli Tapani Karjalainen (2006) has developed a fascinating concept of topobiography. What is the significance of places in the story of our lives? I'm thinking of becoming a topobiocartographer who moves on the terrain formed by places that are hidden, visible, remembered, forming or waiting. In everyday life, a place may be hidden, and as things change, it becomes visible. When visible, it activates memories and reshapes the present moment. What will the future of the place be like? How will the story of my life attached to places continue? 

Hanhi-Rumajärvi, Ylitornio, 7 May 2017: In the early hours of the night I skied to the gray log cabin through many memorable places, as if making sure that they were safe. After a few hours of sleep, I woke up to listen, whether the Black Grouse would already be chattering. It was strangely quiet. And then it started. A voice like I had never heard before struck my consciousness. The peace of the morning was shattered as a large drill was boring into the bedrock. Test drillings by an international mining company have continued in the region for years. While skiing away from the cabin, I stopped in an open swamp, sawed and composed snow blocks under a crooked swamp pine. Our sense of ourselves depends on the permanence of places that are important to us, says geographer Yi-fu Tuan (2006). The peace of this vast wilderness region is gone, and it is uncertain whether it will ever return. 

Porokotajänkkä, Muonio, 1 May 2018: The weekend cottage holiday with the family was spent in mild weather. The snow saw was waiting to see if it there could still be snow to work on. Waking up early on May Day was worthwhile, as the thermometers sunk to five degrees below. After a long wait, it is always exciting to get on the skating skis – will the snow carry me? It did! Immediately I was in skier’s heaven, the ski slid on the creaking crust, leaving only a light trace. First, I just enjoyed the pace, the new views, the labyrinth of the forest, the open swamp and the light caressing the slopes of the Pallastunturi fell. Then I looked at the landscape through the eyes of a snow sawyer. 

Hattuaapa, Rovaniemi, 18 April 2019: If you want to experience the most amazing moments of light in the early spring morning, you must get on the move well in time. I did. I skied towards the reddish dawn with front lighting, towards the reddish pine trunks with backlighting, towards the rumble of the Black Grouse with light coming from the side. Sometimes I have skied from evening till morning. In the twilight, even a slow pace feels fast, as if I were going downhill all the time. I vividly remember the moods of my youth on the nightly snow, and every spring I still hope to experience even a hint of something of the same. At the same time, I understand that I am already firmly middle-aged, and my physical condition on skis is not the same as before. The carelessness of youth has shifted, replaced by the duties and responsibilities of the rush hours of my life. But yes, I can still ski away from them! At least for a few hours. 

Pohjasenojanaapa, Ylitornio, 1 January 2020: I remember reading a description in an old outdoor literature book from the early years of the previous century about how Western Capercaillies burrowed into damp snow to sleep had died because they had not been able to get out from under the snow as the temperature dropped violently. Something so exceptional happened that birds that had adapted to winter for millennia made a fatal mistake. This winter, I sawed the snow for the first time in midwinter. That was also something quite exceptional. Even though I enjoyed those moments under the moonlight, the thought revolved in my mind that this is not the way things should be. The time for the snow crust to carry me is in April. 

Iisakkipää, Inari, 7 March 2020: I got up at six. As the sun rose, I climbed up the fell to enjoy my morning coffee. Flashing snow crystals circled on the surface of the snow in the wind while I was digging the coffee out of my backpack. But there was no coffee. Dreadful! For a while I was gloomy, yet at the same time my heart was bursting in the beauty of the fell, the snow, and the light. I seemed to have lost all my ideas. At the same time, I kept glancing at my watch to get back by nine to pack so that we would be able to check out of our vacation home on time. The minutes passed and it started to look like this would be a brisk morning stroll to drink coffee on top of the fell - without the coffee. I then span a few arcs with my saw and took some photos with my phone. Then I jumped on the sled and went down the fell. Exactly at nine o'clock I was back, as agreed. I didn’t start packing right away, though, first I had my morning coffee. 

Living with the snow

Text and photos Antti Stöckell
Translation Maija Myllylä


Northern cultures have adapted to living with winter. Snow and ice have not been constraints or obstacles to be overcome, but they have provided the opportunity to move and to transport things, as well as to fish and hunt in the winter. Lately, the snowy winter has become the most important tourism resource in Lapland.

Finns living in the southern parts of the country have described their experience of a snow-free winter as an endless November. In the north, on the other hand, building roofs have collapsed from snow load. This winter, there was an exceptionally large amount of snow in Lapland already in midwinter, and the density of snow grew to record numbers early on. More and more people worry about global warming. Winters are getting shorter, becoming more unstable and the snow-covered area is shrinking. What will happen to our skills of living with the snow?

Hankiaamu*  – snow crust on a spring morning. The most beautiful thing in the world. On those mornings, I race on my light skating skis over the swamps and across the forest with a saw in my backpack. Skiing is like warming up until some place makes me stop and push my saw into snow. Since 2009, I have cut and picked out sculptural pieces out of snow and formed constellations to become a part of the landscape.

Anthropologist Tim Ingold (2015) characterizes places as knots and the threads that tie them are hiker's routes. My threads crisscross and there are countless knots in the Rovaniemi region. Trip after trip the fabric of memories and meanings gets thicker.

Please join me on the trips on the snow crust with these pictures. I have picked out one image for each year from more than a thousand pictures.

* ’Hankiaamu’ is a Finnish-language word describing an early morning in early spring, when the surface of the snow melted on previous, warm days has frozen during the night into a crust that is strong enough to carry the weight of a skier.


Antti Stöckell is a visual artist, art educator and university teacher. He works at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Lapland with environmental and community art working methods and community art education as his main field of teaching. In terms of research, Stöckell has become acquainted with the possibilities of art in dealing with experiences of environmental change and, more recently, with combining art and nature activities in the context of leisure, education and program services.



Ingold, T. (2015). The Life of Lines. Abingdon; New York: Routledge.
Karjalainen, P.T. (2006). Topobiografinen paikan tulkinta [The topobiographical interpretation of place]. In S. Knuuttila, P. Laaksonen & U. Piella (Eds.) Paikka. Eletty, kuviteltu, kerrottu [Place. Lived, imagined, narrated] (pp. 83–92). Kalevalaseuran vuosikirja 85. Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society.

Krohn, L. (1993). Tribar: huomioita inhimillisestä ja ei-inhimillisestä [Tribar: notions of human and inhuman]. WSOY

Tuan, Y., F. (2006). Paikan taju: aika, paikka ja minuus [The perception of place: time, place, and selfhood]. In S. Knuuttila, P. Laaksonen & U. Piella (Eds.) Paikka. Eletty, kuviteltu, kerrottu [Place. Lived, imagined, narrated]. Kalevalaseuran vuosikirja 85 (pp. 15–30). Helsinki: Finnish Litterature Society