Walking in winter as an amputee

Being active in winter, even as an amputee (picture courtesy of Tiina Nopanen).
Being active in winter, even as an amputee (picture courtesy of Tiina Nopanen).

A Joy That Comes With Plenty Of Challenges

Hello! My name is Tiina and I'm a knee-x amputee from Southern Finland. I've been an amputee for almost 30 years now. I've been using Ottobock Genium since November 2021 and I'm loving it. It makes me feel safe and gives me countless possibilities to enjoy my hiking hobby. And it does so also during the winter and snow season in Finland. Something I would like to tell you a bit more about in the following blog post.  


Winter Is Coming

Did you know that the Nordic languages have tons of words for snow and winter conditions; many more than the English language does? The northernmost parts of Europe, especially in Northern Finland and Sweden, are covered with snow most of the year. Finnish Lapland has already received a its first blanket of snow in October and it is likely to stay until May. In Southern Finland where I live, it's always a gamble wether we'll have snow or not. If not, we'll have several months of icy or slushy conditions when it's snowing and raining in turns. 



Getting Around IN Winter Conditions As An Amputee

In my opinion, icy conditions are the worst for an amputee. As both a sense of the position of and general feedback from your foot are missing, you don't feel what's underneath your foot until you have all of your weight on it. On ice I recommend to take shorter steps so you'll get your whole foot on the ground sooner and thus get more friction.


Even more dangerous than purely icy conditions is when on top of the ice there’s a thin snow cover; a loose layer not attached to the ice underneath. Then you might not notice the ice until your feet slip and you fall. I have slipped and even broken my prothesis a few times in these conditions.


During the wintertime, choosing the right footwear is essential. It makes such a big difference what type of shoe you wear. Some materials of the soles are more rigid and might even freeze over and become really slippery when the temperature is below 0°C. You should prefer soles made of rubber or other materials especially designed for winter weather.


I usually use shoes with ice spikes the whole winter (Icebug is my personal favorite). They work both on slippery ice and when the snow is packed as you often find on city sidewalks.


Fresh snow covers all the holes and tree roots on forest paths, and I often find it a bit scary to walk on untouched routes. I use adjustable hiking poles while in nature. Hiking poles help me maintain my balance on uneven terrain and protect my joints on my "meat leg".


When there's snow, I add a special snow baskets to my hiking poles that prevents them from sinking too deep in the snow. As the poles are adjustable, it's possible to make them long enough - with too short poles it's otherwise difficult to get a proper support in deep snow. 


Deep snow makes walking difficult. Snow gives resistance to the prothesis and therefore the knee won't necessarily bend normally to take a step. You’ll need to work harder from your hip joint and it might be tiring for your hip flexor.



There Is More To Winter Than Hiking

During the winter time, snowshoes are the thing for me - I can experience nature quite quietly and calmly. In knee deep, soft snow, I find it quite difficult to hike even with snowshoes. In the spring, as the snow is more packed, walking with snowshoes becomes easier. Later in the spring, you might be able to walk on top of snow even without snowshoes as the snow will start to bear one's weight. With snowshoes, on deeper slopes going down, I find that the prothesis doesn't realize what it should be doing, and I might have to descend sideways to get down safely. 


The Genium knee also has a skiing mode but I haven't tired it yet. But hopefully in the coming winter, I'll get on skis.


Despite making life a bit more difficult for the amputees, snow makes winter so much better. Snow offers great chances for exercise and test your boundaries. Winter has plenty of adventures to offer. And it's up to us to make good use of the extra opportunities. 



Guest post by Tiina Nopanen. Tiina is an above knee amputee from Finland who spends her spare time outdoors. To learn more about Tiina, follow her on Instagram. 


Further Reading

Aurélie, the wheelchair using globetrotter


"For the first time, in April 2015, I travelled far away from France. For years, I wanted to discover other cultures. So when I finished my studies I didn't hesitate and bought a flight ticket to Japan. Three amazing weeks! During these vacations in the country of the rising sun I caught the travel bug and I realised this passion was about to become a central part of my life." That's how Aurélie's amazing story started back in 2015. Read more

The Enock Glidden Special


To kick this new series off, I am extremely happy to partner with one of the most inspirational people I have ever heard about. The always amazing Enock Glidden. Today, Enock will share his story with you. Tomorrow we will show a video about one of his most amazing feats. On Thursday it’s back to Enock and his reflections about team work and assistance before he talks more in general about the preparation it takes to take on big adventures on Friday.

But enough talk from me. Let me hand over to Enock. Read more

Healing power of nature


The days are getting longer, the summer is approaching quickly, and with it there are more and more opportunities to explore Mother Nature all around us and be outdoors and active. After weeks, months, years of Covid19-induced lockdowns and the long winter months, this is a welcome change for many of us. Good for the body, a treat for the soul. And - as we learn from Tiina today - people in Finland have a special word for this special bonding between people and the surrounding nature. Read more