As soon as the slightest chill or snowflake sets upon us Stateside, a flurry of complaints, perceived setbacks, and southern escape plans begin. Winter, for many, is something to endure or survive, not enjoy. But there’s an alternate attitude, held by those who hail from the Nordic, sub-Arctic regions of Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. For them, winters are some of the harshest on the planet—with up to 20 hours of darkness a day in the world’s most Northern capital city of Reykjavik, Iceland—and yet the approach towards the season is one that both embraces the outdoors, and celebrates all things cozy. Their biggest gripe? That there is actually less snow these days than they would like (blame climate change).
So what’s their secret to becoming highly successful in the coldest of climates? We North-polled some Scandinavians from the worlds of fashion, beauty, music, food, sports, and art to have them share their ways of winning at winter. So maybe their spirit of resilience (many are descendants of Vikings, after all) and practical tips will inspire you to approach the season with a whole new outlook, and an action plan.
Treasured tradition: “I love skiing and being outdoors. They say Norwegians are born with ski on their feet. My mom competed in skiing when she was young. We do a lot of randonee backcountry skiing, where you walk up the mountain with your skis because your heels are detached. At the top, you fasten your heel and alpine ski down.”
Norwegian approach: “Wintertime can be pretty rough and because I am from the west coast of Norway, I’m used to proper storms. As a person, it makes you a bit more able to handle things. Living through crazy weather has prepared me for the craziness that this industry brings with it.”
Winter’s work: “It’s inspiring for me when writing music. I don’t think I could live in a place that didn’t have a change in the seasons. I also think it’s important to wear scarves to protect your throat and voice.”
Wardrobe essentials: “You can wear whatever you want as long as you have wool underneath. It’s pretty much my favorite fabric in the world. Woolen socks, underwear and even woolen bras are amazing.”
Survival tip: “As a kid, my mom always made me and my siblings sit and look at a special lamp every morning before school. It had really strong light that gives you Vitamin D. I hated it but it helps.”
Viking alter-ego: “Freyja, the goddess of love and war. She seems like a pretty fun girl. She’s all about love but also a real badass who fights for herself.”
The Oslo-based fashion PR and blogger from northern Norway is known for her inventive attitude towards getting dressed, no matter the weather.
Treasured tradition: “Cozying up in our house with lots of scented candles, stocking up on great tea and firewood, and staying inside under a blanket watching movies. I also love to take long walks when the weather is nice and the air is really crisp.”
Norwegian approach: “Most of us love winter activities like skiing, snowboarding and tobogganing.”
Wardrobe essentials: “Chunky homemade knits, any shoe with a thick and non-slippery rubber sole and my biggest down jacket. If you see me wearing some tiny shoes and a little blazer, it’s only for the picture.
Winter survival tips: “The best medicine for winter depression is to wear colorful outfits.”
Viking alter ego: “Whatever Viking was all about the coziness and hygge, and not so much about the bloodthirst and killing. Winter is hard enough as it is.”
Best thing about winter: “Making gingersnaps at home. Sweden is the biggest user of cardamom per capita than anywhere in the world. That smell when it’s baking fascinates me.”
Treasured tradition: “Before Christmas, we make soft Swedish flatbreads. In early December, my family gets together and makes our batch for the holidays in a kind of assembly line.”
Nordic approach: “In all marginal climates, you have to produce an excess in summer and store that for winter. Grains are easy to grow and they can be turned into a huge variety of things. Most baking recipes have the same five to ten basic ingredients. This symbolizes baking and more in the nordic region: limited ingredients, limitless possibilities.”
Winter’s work: “I try to experience as much as possible during winter, which helps me channel my creativity. What I find fascinating about baking is that it’s both the most accessible but at the same time the most difficult part of all cooking. It’s so hard to become intuitive as a baker. It takes so much practice to get that feeling that most of us have for savory cooking, where we can taste as we go.”
Survival tip: “Our traditional coffee breaks, where you take a break from work, are called “fika.”
JJ Julius Son
The Icelandic lead singer of Kaleo is currently in Nashville recording new music, and hails from Mosfellsbær outside of Reykjavik.
Treasured tradition: “Coming together to eat traditional Icelandic meals based on the way you’d have to preserve food back in the day, such a hákarl fermented shark, harðfiskur dried fish and reindeer hunted by my father. Most of the food is quite an acquired taste, but I love what it represents.”
Icelandic approach: “It feels like the winters can be up to eight months, so sometimes there can be frustration in the air. Iceland is one of the windiest places in the world and that can be challenging. I can’t imagine back in the day how people got around. Can you imagine being a postman in the Western Fjords? It’s no joke. It definitely helps with this Icelandic attitude of survival.”
Winter’s work: “There is something really magical about it that shapes you as an artist. Iceland is a place where there are no real boundaries. If you look at the music scene, we have great reggae, jazz, blues and all kinds of genres. I don’t like to do the same thing musically either. You sense that in America, people really want to start labelling you. Freedom of creativity is dominant in Iceland.”
Survival tips: “Something that is quite popular and we all grew up with is taking cod liver oil, such as Lysi. I also try to go to the gym for an hour every day, which is especially important when I am on the road. It helps me zone out the madness.”
Viking alter-ego: “Leif Erikson, because of his connection with North America as the first explorer to come, before Christopher Columbus. Coming to America was always a dream of mine growing up.”
The Icelandic artist and perfumer recently launched her latest fragrance, Dark.
Treasured tradition: “Soaking in natural lagoons and spending hours in the sauna. Mixing the super cold with the super hot is a feeling I love.”
Winter’s work: “Aesthetically, the look of my brand is pretty “cold”; a far cry from the typical romantic perfume look. It’s sharp, icy, and direct, and that must come from within. Wardrobe essential: “Sunglasses because that low winter sun is super bright. I have collected pairs from Italian eyewear brand Soya, who I am collaborating with next year.”
Winter survival tip: “Vitamin D in liquid form is a must, as there is no sun.”
Viking alter-ego: “I relate to Geirmundur Heljarskinn, one of the first Icelandic entrepreneurs.”
Lisbeth Karline Poulsen
A visual artist based in Nuuk, Greenland, Karline Poulsen is also chairwoman of the KIMIK arts collective.
Winter memories:“Dog sledding on the ice with friends after school. Seeing the northern lights dancing over the sky, trying to count the stars.”
Treasured tradition: “To put a red-orange star in the window, very characteristic for Christmas in Greenland.”
Greenlandic attitude:“Hygge is a good word for it. We share a lot of good food with family and friends that fuels your energy. Anything self-caught, like fish, seal and muskox are always a hit.”
Winter’s work:“I had an solo exhibition in the culture house here in Greenland called “The Whiteout”, about issues like global warming and the disappearance of local hunters. I have many works made in just shades of white, probably from the long winter time we have here.”
Wardrobe essentials:“Headbands and sealskin gloves, which is from sustainable hunting and locally produced.”
Survival tips:“To have a lot of projects, to keep your hands busy. I am usually most productive in the wintertime, setting goals or ideas for the rest of the year.”
The creative director of Byredo grew up in both Canada and Sweden. His fragrance and leather goods brand, based in Stockholm, just released their latest candle, Chai.
Treasured tradition: “We have a house on an island in the Stockholm archipelago, right on the sea, and around Christmas we all go ice skating. I’m also an avid cold-water surfer, so winter means lots of time in ice cold waters.”
Nordic approach: “Both Swedes and Canadians are naturally quite used to long, cold winters and we practice a variety of activities, such as skiing, skating, snowmobiling, and ice bathing straight out of the sauna. What’s harder is dealing with mild slushy winters that drag on. We just don’t know what to do.”
Winter’s work: “The seasons all come with unique smells. Much of the work we do in perfume builds on very specific natural raw materials, and many of them don’t grow this far north. I felt sometimes that my relationship to these smells are in an artificial environment which at first worried me, but it has also allowed me to interpret them in a unique way.”
Wardrobe essentials: “Cashmere and merino everything, as well as a pair of curling boots by Bally.”
An Icelandic/Norwegian soccer player and star of Iceland’s World Cup team, Bjarnason otherwise plays for England’s Aston Villa, based in Birmingham, U.K..
Favorite memory: “I’m a true winter child and love the snow, so it has to be skiing back home in Akureyri, Iceland when I was a kid.”
Icelandic approach: “Coming from a cold place has definitely made me a tougher person in many ways. There is no reason to complain about things that can’t be changed. I think that attitude has made me who I am today and helped me in many stages through my career.
Winter’s work: “In my profession, we rather prefer a warm winter then a cold one. Would I not be playing soccer, the snowier the better. Since a young age I’ve always enjoyed the winter, so I embrace it.”
Viking alter ego: “Wherever I’ve played through my career, I’ve always been nicknamed Thor. I guess I look quite like him because of my long blond hair.”
The co-founder of sustainable fashion label Guðrun & Guðrun is based in the Faroe Islands.
Best thing about winter: “Darkness means calmness. Summer and 24 hours of light is wonderful, but exhausting. My body needs winter to rest.”
Treasured tradition: “The winter mornings are wonderful and the sky is a new painting every morning. I treasure my walk along the shore to the studio when the light is approaching.”
Faroese approach: “Candle lights, knitting clubs, and good company are needed to survive the winter. Knowing that the light eventually will be back is essential.”
Wardrobe essentials: “Sweaters and shearling, but as winter is so long, you sometimes need to neglect it and dress up like crazy.”
Survival tip: “I need a daily sauna to heat my bones, combined with dipping in the ocean outside my door. Fermented mutton and fish keeps me happy and healthy.”
Viking alter-ego: “It must be Frigg, the wise wife of Odin.”
Treasured tradition: “I love going ice-skating on the big pond here in Reykjavík.”
Icelandic approach: “I think it’s quite positive. During summer we have so much daylight that people go a bit crazy. So I think we really need the winter with it’s darkness, calmness, and focus.”
Winter’s work: “It’s the extremes in the light that influence me the most. Also being surrounded by the sea and nature is something that has inspired me a lot in my designs. I do a lot of my deepest research during winter through books and seeing exhibits.”
Viking alter-ego: “Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir is thought of to be one of the biggest female explorers. She travelled across Europe, went to Greenland and to America. She is one of the most inspiring women in the Icelandic sagas.”
The professional cold-water surfer and yogi from Sandgerði, Iceland grew up in Denmark before settling back in Reykjavik. He is the star of the surf documentary Under An Arctic Sky and is currently shooting his third film.
Best thing about winter: “Winter sports. I remember before I started snowboarding, I was super hyperactive. My whole youth, I would lay in bed at night and not be able to fall asleep because I had so much energy but no outlet. Now, I can spend all day in the mountains, lay in bed, fall asleep and be content.”
Favorite memory: “I remember being little with my dad in the highlands with snow as tall as I was, which felt crazy. He had a big-wheeler [SUV] we would drive up, do some off-roading and hike the mountains.”
Treasured tradition: “We have a resort near Reykjavik I grew up snowboarding at. It’s called Bláfjöll and is pretty small but it did the trick.”
Nordic approach: “When you have something you find the you love, like me with surfing, it’s amazing what you’ll do, no matter the conditions or how hard it is. This mentality has shaped me. It’s about having something that pushes you and understanding that bad weather can be good.”
Survival tip: “Just eat super healthy and go with it. Summer is great and all that, but everything that I love happens in winter. We don’t get the storms in the summer that bring the best waves. I try to spend as much time as I can riding them in Iceland.”
An Inuk singer-songwriter and actress from Nuuk, Greenland, Nielsen is a member of the folk band Nive and the Deer Children.
Favorite winter memory: “As a teenager in Nuuk, as soon as school was done, we would run home change and get our skis.”
Greenlandic approach: “Winter is such a big part of the year here and who we are. We look forward to December, which is the darkest, but with all the Christmas lights, it’s one of the coziest times. Then it’s a stormy wild January—I love whiteouts.”
Winter’s work: “It makes no sense to complain about weather every single day; you learn to appreciate what there is to appreciate. It relates to my work in that it’s not all good happy sunny days, there are contrasts everywhere.”
Survival tip: “I love to drink a warm apple juice with cinnamon and star anis and bake healthy granola.”
Winter warrior alter-ego: “All my Inuit ancestors. Their ingenuity led to our survival in the least hospitable part of earth.”
An Icelandic stylist who’s worked with everyone from Bjork to Taylor Swift, Gudmundsdottir recently oversaw costumes for Rambert’s new dance company at Sadler Wells.
Treasured tradition: “On December 31, I go to a holiday concert at Hallgrimskirkja church, where most of the town gathers to light fireworks at midnight. I always have two big rockets: one that I send up right before midnight with a note saying goodbye to the bad things and another for right after midnight with a note of what I wish for the new year.”
Icelandic attitude: “It’s the time when you stay at home creating, reading books, listening to music and spending quality time with loved ones.”
Winter’s work: “When I moved to New York, I could not believe a minor snowfall was enough to cancel school and work. Icelandic winters made me stronger and as a stylist it has given me a natural sense of layering.”
Wardrobe essential: “My Fendi fur hat and new Y/Project thigh-high Ugg boots that can climb any mountain.”
Viking alter-ego: “Egill Skallagrimsson. He was a great poet.”
The Danish makeup artist, and founder of her eponymous organic beauty brand, recently collaborated with Caroline Issa on a new lipstick.
Treasured tradition: “Baking in preparation for the holidays, and marking the advent calendar every Sunday with a small present for the kids. And a family get-together over glögg mulled wine.”
Danish approach: “We’re pretty stoic, but I actually think a lot of Danes welcome winter with open arms because it brings the hygge atmosphere.”
Winter’s work: “As far as make-up goes, I like a rosy wintery cheek year-round.”
Wardrobe essentials: “An Isabel Marant oversized coat, Icelandic sweaters, and my mum’s hand-knitted scarf.”
Survival tip: “Green juices help me stay healthy.”
Viking alter-ego: “Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson was big in school as a kid. We were taught how he united Denmark.”
The Icelandic footwear and accessories designer of Kalda is from the Northern Fjords and splits her time between London, Reykjavik, and New York.
Favorite winter memory: “Lying in the snow and looking at the Northern Lights for hours. At the time I didn’t even realize what they were, it was just a very natural thing for us to do in the evening.”
Treasured tradition: “Hunting with my father for a bird that we eat only during Christmas in Iceland called Rjupa. It makes you really respect the food that you eat if you have to hunt it yourself.”
Icelandic approach: “For Icelanders, winter is such a normal part of life. I can imagine people finding it strange to hear about 20 hours of darkness, but people embrace it and keep to their routine.”
Winter’s work: “In my design process, I am very attracted to opposite elements, combining them together to challenge conventional beauty, which I think comes straight from this extremism in nature. And my brand name, Kalda, actually means cold in Icelandic.”
Viking alter-ego: “Hallgerdur Langbrok. She is the greatest female hero of the Icelandic Sagas and was a complete rebel at her time. Women who go their own way always attract me.”
A Finnish ice hockey player and four-time Olympian who now plays for Kunlun Red Star in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and is based in Shenzen, China.
Favorite memory: “Countless hours of pond hockey with friends in air so cold that it was hard to tie skates without gloves on. And our family skiing trips up to Northern Finland when I was younger.”
Treasured tradition: “Definitely ice swimming, which is great for recovery, and ice fishing. Also visiting Santa Claus Village in Lapland.”
Winter’s work: “Having access to so many outdoor rinks and being able to play hockey with my friends definitely helped me to become the goalie and athlete I’m today. It has also taught me perseverance and discipline, as I can’t let cold weather or snow be an excuse to not getting my training done.”
Survival tip: “I find my special wake-up light to be a useful moodlifter in the mornings. Also, remember that if you win the morning, you win the day so always wake up with determination, fill your day with action, and go to bed with satisfaction.”