City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Journal: Snowfall, Helsinki

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A very cold if rather beautiful day in Helsinki yesterday. At around -10ºC, this was a 40 degree drop in temperature from the Sydney I'd been in 24 hours earlier. The frozen harbour was still, almost ethereal, under pale sunlight—can that really be the same sun that shines on Sydney?—whereas further into the city, people were walking between buildings at a fair clip.



Ten minutes walk away, heavy snow was still blanketing the streets and parks, where football had been elbowed aside by ice hockey, whereas the Kiasma art gallery was full of people taking refuge.



It was not a day for aimlessly hanging around outside, despite its beauty, but look at the roof in the photograph at the top of this entry and you'll see four figures perched up there doing just that.

There is a very distinct urban process going on here: clearing snow from Helsinki's roofs before it falls unpredictably or loads roofs with too much weight. According to Helsinki Times, these men are often Estonians, and known as 'snowdroppers', and carefully crawl over the roofs of Helsinki's elegant city-centre buildings, creating miniature controlled avalanches onto the cordoned-off street below.


Outside of the centre this is sometimes done with amateurs, which sounds unbelievably dangerous. I like the Helsingen Sanomat's pithy note of caution:

"It is dangerous enough when the snow comes down unexpectedly on people's heads – please do not add to the danger by coming down with it."

As a kind of impromptu urban performance, it's strangely compelling to watch. It's a great sound too—the clatter-and-scrape of hammers and shovels loosening the ice and snow, and the gentle whump as the snowfall hits the street below some seconds later. But again, it wasn't a day for hanging around.

More photos from Helsinki, February 2011


5 responses to “Journal: Snowfall, Helsinki”

  1. jgrzinich Avatar

    Nice post. Its a familiar phenomenon here in Estonia as well. Unfortunately a fair number of people get injured by falling snow and ice every year. Bundle up, we might hit -30 in the next few days.


  2. Charlie Morrow Avatar

    There bobcats working the street removing the tons of snow on a constant basis to piles some of which are put into truck and dumped into the harbor at a location where an ice breaker circles to keep the flow. I am in Helsinki through Sunday, then NYC. You might enjoy our new permanent environmental sound installations in Marimekko’s new shop, Marikulma, at 33 North Esplanade. Charlie Morrow


  3. sewa mobil Avatar

    Nice article, thanks for the information.


  4. Montgomery Roth Avatar

    Snow is not a common phnomenon here in Texas. It makes you forget that elsewhere in the world things are different. That’s some serious snowfall!


  5. Columbus Architect Avatar

    I love the article. The silence of the scene comes through in the photos. Thanks for sharing.


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