Beware the Fearsome Icelandic Death Ice!

Years ago, in college, some friends of mine rented a movie called “Death Bed: The Bed That Eats.” I wasn’t even around for this viewing—although the title has stuck with me for all these years—and honestly, The Death Bed (The Bed That Eats) is neither here nor there in terms of this post, except that I would like to draw a mostly-unrelated parallel to a fearsome blight sneaking up (and under) Reykjavíkurs all over our lovely city. Beware, all ye who walk here: Death Ice: The Ice That Sprains. Death Ice: The Ice That Bruises.

Death Ice: Do not be fooled by the attractive vista; this ice is merely lying in wait.

Death Ice: Do not be fooled by the attractive vista; The Death Ice is merely lying in wait for its next victim.

Death Ice:
The Ice That Maliciously Wants You to Fall, Embarrass Yourself In Front of Strangers,
and—If Fortune Smiles—Break An Ankle, A Wrist, A Tailbone…Or All Of The Above.

Perhaps Death Ice preys on the populace of your own wintery cities, but I have never encountered it anywhere but here. Death Ice, so far as I can determine, requires a unique combination of three environmental factors to flourish like particularly demonic, frozen kudzu:

  1. A temperate, but fluxing winter environment. Death Ice grows in layers, you see. First comes the snow. It is lovely. Then it gets warmer and the snow begins to melt, but slowly. Then it gets cold again and the meltwater refreezes, often in wave-like patterns, or in the form of overlapping shoe prints. Then maybe it snows again, gets warm again, gets cold again. The process continues, and the Death Ice thickens, stretches, blossoms, and invades.
  2. A social disinclination towards salting (or sanding) sidewalks. I believe the reason that I did not encounter Death Ice in New York, for instance, is that sidewalk salting is a religious and regular activity. Perhaps this is due to the litigious nature of clumsy Americans, but nevertheless, it means that sidewalk snow and ice melts—and melts fully—on a regular basis. Barring salt, a decent sanding might at least give us all a bit more traction.
  3. A lack of regular pedestrian traffic. Lots of people walking over the same sidewalks aids in faster snow-meltage. Combine an abundance of foot traffic with sidewalk-salting, and Death Ice has no opportunity to take hold. But while there are some heavily foot-trafficked (and simultaneously salted/sanded/or graveled) areas in Reykjavík, such as downtown or around the university campus, these areas do not extend to many neighborhood sidewalks, for instance, especially as you move further from the center of town.

When you get these three factors together, you have trouble. Death Ice—as it manifests in Reykjavík, at least—can often not be avoided without taking a major detour, or at the very least, giving up on sidewalks all together and deciding to walk straight down the center of the street, which has its own obvious risks, as ours is a speed-happy, pedestrian-light city. So when forced to tackle Death Ice head on, you must curl your toes, tense your calves, and baby-step/dainty-lady-walk very delicately across its pitiless face, careful not to gesture or lean or otherwise let down your guard for the briefest moment. (Woe, woe to you if you have to walk up a hill, or even a slight incline.)

I don’t think it is possible to survive a winter in Reykjavík without taking at least one spectacular spill—one “total digger,” as a roommate of mine used to say. But for every major fall avoided, there are seven near-falls, scary slips, and shaming slides. (For me, these are all accompanied by sound effects: “whoop! weep! eek! damn it! [Word that would disappoint my mom!]” I’ve become something of a noisy walker.)

Thus far, I’ve only had one really fantabulous flop, during which I (loudly) managed to bruise both shoulders, strain my back, and bump an elbow and a knee, but all (miraculously) without breaking, spraining, pulling, or otherwise cause terribly lasting damage to my person. But the winter is far from over. And the Death Ice has far from receded…

Beware, fellow walkers! Beware!

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10 thoughts on “Beware the Fearsome Icelandic Death Ice!

  1. Larissa, I feel your pain. St. Louis also has death ice–owing to a similar constellation of factors that you outline. It seems to have receded due to recent warm temperatures, but oh winter is painful…

    • Ooph. Sorry that we are sister-cities in killer ice…hope the warming trend continues! Your winter…with the POLAR VORTEX…has probably been much harsher than ours.

    • Due to the ice, biking in winter—which many people still do—seemed kind of crazy to me, but I was recently told that they sell bike tires with metal pins in them…sort of like crampons for your bike. Still seems perilous to me, but a bit less so.

  2. Hello

    We’re a class of 6 and 7 year olds in Norfolk, UK, and found your blog while looking for blogs from all the different continents of the world.

    Our topic for this term is adventurers and explorers. We’re trying to get as many visits to our blog as possible from different parts of the world, and would love a visit from Iceland if you have the time. Our blog is at

    From Robins Class @ Lingwood Primary School, Norfolk, UK

  3. Hello Larissa (or rather Sæl og blessuð)

    Thank you for your comment on our blog. We’re glad you liked it.

    As we’re studying about adventuring and exploring in our lessons this term, we wonder if you could tell us a few places in Iceland that you think are cool places to explore (so we could find pictures on the Internet and then write about them!).

    We also hear that you have volcanoes there – are there any erupting right now (like Mount Etna in Italy)?

    Thanks again for taking the time to visit us and answer our questions.

    From Robins Class – Year 2 – Lingwood Primary School, Norfolk, UK (

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