On the north side of Luosto fell there is the cutest little coffee house, Torvisen maja. I highly recommend visiting the cafe, not only for its delicious freshly baked doughnuts and pies but also for the incredible atmosphere, oozing authenticity and olden days. 

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You can reach Torvisen maja by car, skis, bike, feet, you choose.

How to get there?

I ended up visiting Torvisen maja as a pit stop on my skiing trip in December. The cross-country skiing tracks around Luosto are fabulous and versatile, by the way. Luosto fell is part of Pyhä-Luosto National Park in eastern Lapland. If travelling from abroad, the nearest airport is Rovaniemi. There are busses from Rovaniemi, as well as from other directions. As for me, I left my cabin with skis 6 km away, skied pass Luosto “centre” and towards the north side of the largest fell. There, you cannot miss the place.

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The heart of the cafe is the fireplace. Maria, the hostess, says people love to watch the fire for ages.

Resting haven for 60 years

At doorstep you already start feeling it. The warmth of the fireplace and dim light of candles embrace you. There are colourful rugs as tablecloths and traditional decorations from the olden days. This cafe has served tired and hungry skiers and wanderers since 1957!

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This is the very first guest book from 1957. A freely translated quote from a guest: “Possibly this hut brings people one step closer to nature, of which we have become estranged with.” That was 60 years ago, what about now?

Torvisen maja was founded by Torvinen village association as a wilderness hostel. One could stop here on a hiking or skiing trip and get a cosy sleeping space from upstairs, for a small fee. During the decades the cottage has served also as an open wilderness hut, and for the past 30 years actively as a cafe.

And imagine, there is still no electricity nor running water. But just that is a big part of the charm.

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Exceptional atmosphere and versatile menu

Today the cafe keepers are Maria Heikkilä and Toni Vaarala. They are very open and welcoming to all visitors from near and far, they chat with customers and tell stories about the cottage’s past. Meanwhile there is a fresh pot of coffee brewing and dough waiting to be turned into doughnut, or “munkki” as we say, on gas stove. Positive feedback from customers has been nearly overwhelming (we Finns do not accept compliments easily).

Indeed, a senior skier sipping coffee in the next table states Torvisen maja is the most atmospheric cafe he has ever visited, and he has been to many.

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Decorations are old and traditional. I love the rugs as tablecloths.

Maria and Toni emphasise they have a menu that is different every day but always contains fresh and home made goods.

I had a hard time deciding on my order as this was the Menu du Jour:

– reindeer-lingonberry pie

– lingonberry-fudge pie

– warm doughnuts, “munkki”

– pancakes (savoury and sweet)

– salmon sandwich

– tasting plate including reindeer salami, bear paté, reindeer liver, salmon and whitefish roe

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In the end I had to go with traditional munkki and coffee, and boy was it delicious! I could ski here every day just for the munkki.

Torvisen maja is open from Autumn until late spring, however long there is snow to be skied. The busiest time for the cafe is from February skiing holidays onwards until Easter.

Torvisen maja on the map

Finnish Nature is a fine place to quiet down at any time. It is always near, and here in Finland it is still possible to find a spot of absolute stillness, where no traffic or other human made noise can be heard. Just the sounds and smells of forest, rivers or the sea.

During Christmas season we often get stressed. We are in such a hurry to create the perfect setting, perfect food and perfect gifts for our loved ones. Nature, on the other hand, is as calm as ever even in the high season. Maybe there is something we could learn from Nature about how to spend Christmas without the hurry and the buzz.

Photo by Minttu Heimovirta

1. Peace

Nature does not ask questions, complain or insist. It isn’t impatient or anxious.

In midwinter, Nature is truly still and at peace.

Go for a walk – only your footsteps can be heard. You can feel the energy of the sleeping earth under your feet. But to experience it you must remember to stop. And be absolutely quiet.

Photo by Minttu Heimovirta

2. Unselfish generosity

Above the silent ground, the Moon and the Sun ride across the sky day and night after another. They light our paths at all times, and without asking they paint the sky blue, purple and red, making such mixes even the most skillful painters get jealous. All that we humans can do is enjoy the view and sigh: Oh how beautiful!

3. Living in a moment

In Christmastime, the northern part of Finland is covered with a thick layer of snow. In the south, the ground can appear bare but is covered with fallen leaves. Under Nature’s own winter blanket the earth is resting and gaining its strength. In the spring Nature will blossom again in its full glory, but just now it is dim, silent and mysterious. Nature is not inpatient, it is content with this very moment.

4. Gratitude

Under ground, there are all kinds of animals sleeping in Christmastime: bears, badgers, even perhaps the moomins. On the ground, however, life is a struggle. birds are doing all they can to find something to eat, so are mooses and hares. Reindeer have to dig snow to find some lichen under the cover. Animals don’t waste time wishing they had more. They are grateful for every bite.

Photo by Minttu Heimovirta

5. Licence to relax

Nature doesn’t apologise for not offering blooming flowers or gleaming waters in the winter. It doesn’t suffer from a bad conscience if it’s not all neat and tidy. Nature knows its value and takes a break when it is needed. Maybe you shouldn’t worry about what other people might think either.

+1: Joy

After Christmas the Sun begins to bathe the earth with its bright colours longer and longer. In the northernmost Finland the Sun returns after Kaamos, the arctic night, when it hasn’t even showed in a month or more. Before long, you can hear the rivers and their rapids roar, and see plants emerge again from the ground and grow taller and taller.

Christmas is a turning point for Nature. Soon the stillness of winter will end. And new time begins. Enjoy the rest now.

We wish everybody peaceful Christmas and happy new year!

We know Rudolph, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen and the other reindeer pulling Santa’s Important Sleigh by name, but really nothing else. I went to find out what Santa’s reindeers are really like. They live all around Lapland, some in Torassieppi, Muonio.

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Meet Rolle, one of Santa’s less famous reindeer. The antlers are pretty impressive! Rolle is always willing to work hard and he is very patient with humans (and elves). He stood still for the photo shoot like a real pro model. Did you know that reindeer see ultraviolet light! The world looks very different with Rolle’s eyes.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to meet Rudolph, as he was resting and saving his energy for the Big Day. But there are big personalities amongst the others as well.

Antlers are a signal of fitness

The bigger the antlers, the better father material you are in the eyes of the ladies. Lads cannot cheat and grow ridiculously large antlers, however, as it is up to genes and fitness how large they grow. 

Unlike other deer, female reindeer have antlers too, although smaller ones. Most likely the function is to better defend their young.

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Antlers grow at astonishing speed, as much as 2 cm per day! Reindeer antlers are the largest of all deers, relative to body size.

Reindeer shed their antlers once a year, males after the rutting (mating) season. Some hold on to their crown until Christmas, probably to show off when travelling with Santa. Others won’t get rid of them until spring! Big antlers are heavy to carry and not very handy in thick forest, so there is really no need to keep them after the ladies have seen them in Autumn. Females loose their antlers in the summer.

Reindeer are not fussy with food

The favourite food of reindeer is lichen. But in the forest during their summer holidays reindeer also munch mushrooms and plants. It has been counted that reindeer eat over 350 different species of plant! The strategy is to pile up weight as much as possible before the long winter.

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In Torassieppi the elves feed the reindeer an armful of hay a day, plus some protein rich lichen and reindeer pellets. To keep them in shape.

In the winter they smell food under a thick layer of snow. They have a very good sense of smell, it is reindeer’s most import sense.

His name is Aaro. He can be a bit moody and doesn’t get along with everybody. Aaro tends to prefer female elves and co-operates well with them! He does like his caretaker Tommi (at the background), with whom he goes sledding often.

Extreme cold doesn’t bother

Reindeer can manage in extreme cold, in -50 degrees of Celsius.

My lungs hurt if I ski at full speed in -25 C. Reindeer warm cold air in the long nose before it enters lungs.

But the coolest (or warmest) trick is in the fur: They have a very thick underlayer of hair, and overcoat is made of stiff, hollow hair that traps air for insulation. Actually Santa’s reindeer could make their journey by swimming, as the air trapping fur works like a life vest!

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I personally often get cold feet even in my warmest shoes. Reindeer don’t care, even if the temperature in their feet goes near freezing point. They don’t get a frost bite as I would, thanks to a specialised circulation system, in addition to a super cool antifreeze liquid in their bone marrow. True story.

Need to stop for a wee

In Finnish we have a measurement poronkusema which means the distance a reindeer runs without urinating. It is 7-8 km in fact. Reindeer cannot run and pee, so when sledding, they must be stopped at certain intervals so they can use the bathroom. I noticed at least Rolle seemed to empty his bladder every time we stopped on our 3 km sledding trip, just in case. It is actually very dangerous for the reindeer if he can’t go in a long time.

So if you see something yellow on the snow next to your house on Christmas Day, you know what it is!

These guys are sharing a joke. Or they both just love sledding. One of the elves is practising with young Harmikas (1,5 years old), who is too young to participate in Santa’s crew just yet.

 

See reindeer at Harriniva Torassieppi village, Lapland

Map to Torassieppi

Everybody knows where Santa Claus a.k.a Father Christmas really lives right? It is not North Pole. Santa lives in Korvatunturi, Lapland! But if you’d fancy seeing what his childhood home looked like, you have to climb up the grand Levi fell in Kittilä. Or take a gondola straight up.

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Levi in the arctic night, kaamos as we call it. Photo: Mira Pyy

The talk about North Pole is just to cover the true story about Santa’s home. All of us Finns know it. Korvatunturi is a fell far far away in Urho Kekkonen National Park, very near the Russian border in Eastern Lapland. You actually need a special permit if you want to go there. In addition, it is 20 km from the nearest road so a bit of a hike by feet or skis. Santa chose well as there are not many nosy children snooping around before Christmas.

Santa’s childhood

In 2007 a movie was filmed called Christmas Story (Joulutarina, directed by Juha Wuolijoki). It tells a tale about a little boy Nicholas who later became Santa Claus. As a boy he lived in a cute little cottage high up on a fell.

Santa’s cottage. Rising up with the gondola you can see the rooftop of the cottage when nearing the top.

Guess what, the cottage filmed in the movie is still there! You can go visit it, if you find it. There are no signposts, you just have to know where to go.

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We came here by skis, me here with alpine skis, my friend with telemarks. Photo: Mira Pyy

The way to the cottage

It is situated on the southwest side of the fell, near the top, off piste, in between the gondola (World Cup and west pistes) and lift number 11 (south pistes).

In the winter you get there by snowshoeing, skinning up with skis, or the easiest option: by taking a gondola from the Levi ski resort up to the top, and descend down a bit, preferably by skis or snowshoes or you will sink in the snow up to your waist.

In the summer you get there by hiking up or by downhill biking (one track passes the cabin).

It is an adventure finding the cottage, plus a perfect place for a break, away from the piste lights. My friend Mira is admiring the view to the neighbouring fells Aakenus and Kätkätunturi.

The gondola starting point
Map pointing Santa’s cottage

Hiking up fells with snowshoes is fun and good workout. Ylläs has around 50 km of marked snowshoeing routes to keep everybody happy and fit. You don’t need prior experience, just good spirit and a camera to capture the breathtaking nature around you. My first encounter with snowshoes was sweaty but left me infatuated.

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Tuija attaching boot to the binding. It is around -10 degrees of Celsius and we are feeling a bit chilly as we should. It’s going to get sweaty! My choice: Merino wool base layer, T-shirt and a windproof softshell.

Marking routes for the winter season

In the early December days I tagged along a friend who had a task of marking a snowshoeing route next to Ylläs fell in Lapland. The route is 3–4 km in length and takes you up through a magical forest on top of a small fell “Pikkulaki” for some striking views and back.

We stuffed a big bunch of blue poles in our hiking backs and started the journey. Tuija needed to mark the path to follow specific route, so that it follows the same route as on official maps.

Tuija marking the official route with blue poles. Elli the dog is helping.

Tuija marking the official route with blue poles. Elli the dog is helping.

Snowshoes prevent sinking in the deep snow

There are many different kinds of snowshoes but they all work with the same idea: You place your shoe in the binding so that your toes point to the shorter end of the snowshoe. Tighten the cords and go!

The point of snowshoe is that it is easier to walk on top of loose deep snow when your weight is distributed on larger area the your feet. The larger the area, the more it allows you to float on top of snow. The same applies with skis: the longer your skis, the better they will hold you on top of snow. This effect was the reason skis and snowshoes were invented in the first place – to help people move in deep snow.

Harder than I thought

So we embarked upon our journey and within 50 meters it was clear it is going to be rough. Even the dog Elli knew it and wisely saved her energy by stepping only our tracks. The snow was powdery but packed tightly by wind and there was a lot of it, 40–50 cm on average, sometimes much more. So the snowshoe didn’t really do the magic and let me glide on snow as I was expecting, but rather I had to work really hard in knee deep snow to take steps forward. But Tuija was reassuring that conditions on this particular day were harder than usual. Onward we went.

The first hill was very small but steep. I felt I was sliding back and couldn’t get a grip. Then Tuija pointed out there are metal “teeth” below the shoe that allow you to step on you toes and get a proper hold of snow when climbing a steep surface.  So I changed my step to tiptoeing, with success.

Forest is just magical now. Trees have piles of snow on them, some of them are bend as the snow is so heavy. The scenery is from a fairy tale, and as the day light gets fainter and fainter I start to see all kinds of mystical creatures in the tree silhouettes.

Finally on the top, just in time to see the last beautiful rays of light! On the way back headlamps were needed.

Finally on the top, just in time to see the last beautiful rays of light! On the way back headlamps were needed.

It took us a couple of hours to reach the top, Pikkulaki. It was 2 pm, the sun had only been up for two hours and had already set. Polar night will begin here soon. The colours were breathtaking.

View from Pikkulaki mini fell. Sweating up was totally worth it. I haven't enhanced a single colour on this pic. On the other side of Pikkulaki there is the grand Ylläs fell, boasting the largest skiing resort in Finland.

View from Pikkulaki mini fell. Sweating up was totally worth it. I haven’t enhanced a single colour on this pic. On the other side of Pikkulaki there is the grand Ylläs fell, boasting the largest skiing resort in Finland.

Snowshoeing down was an easy ride as now we could follow our own tracks. On the way down we made sure there are enough of blue poles, so you won’t be puzzled or have to worry about getting lost. A map is a good friend though, so you see how to get to the starting point by car or bus.

What to wear?

Tuija had her Sorel Caribous, I had my hiking boots plus gaiters to prevent snow from wetting my pants. Hiking boots or the like work as they feel comfy but robust, and they are somewhat waterproof. The rental places often have a variety of shoes if you don't own suitable ones.

Tuija had her Sorel Caribous, I had my hiking boots plus gaiters to prevent snow from wetting my pants. Hiking boots or the like work as they feel comfy but robust, and they are somewhat waterproof. The rental places often have a variety of shoes if you don’t own suitable ones.

Snowshoeing is proper workout, make no mistake. Don’t overdress or you’ll be sweating like a pig. Well, I was anyways. But it’s important to have extra clothing in a backpack so you can add a woollen layer or two if you get cold during a break or when descending.  A good advice is that you should feel slightly cold at the start. Your body will soon heat you up.

Map – how to get here 

Coordinates: (ETRS-TM35FIN) N=7494364.526825563, E=382855.67971687607

Check these out:
Snowshoeing routes in Ylläs
Snowshoe rental places

First impressions about ice fishing are usually negative. Even many Finns think it’s a cold and boring hobby. Actually it’s just the opposite.

Imagine yourself walking or skiing on the ice of a frozen lake or sea. There might be dozens of meters of water below you. Only half a meter of ice is between you and the freezing cold water.

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I once heard somebody asking “is this really a lake?” It was a man who had never seen a frozen lake before. It’s sometimes difficult to understand that you are actually on the top of a large water pool. When you drill a hole to the ice and drop your ice fishing lure towards the bottom, you finally realize whats happening.

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Ice fishing gets even more exciting when you fish in the wilderness. You never know in advance if the lake has any fish in it at all. Or maybe there haven’t been any fishermen in years and it’s full of huge pikes or salmons. When you drill the first hole and put your lure into the water…

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Ice fishing isn’t only about fishing or catching a fish. It’s also about enjoying the nature, peace and silence. If you go outdoors at winter time, the easiest place to wander is on ice. When there is snow everywhere, the nature is so silent and peaceful.

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If you go walking on ice at a cloudless night and full moon, you don’t need any extra light source. Everything is changing into a fairy tale.

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With the everyman’s right in Finland you can ice fish in lakes and sea areas for free (there are a few exceptions). We have a long sea coast line and almost 200 000 lakes.  You can find a lot of pikes, perches and roaches in almost every lake. When you go more north, you can find a lot of graylings, trouts, salmons and some arctic chars also.

Finnish freediver Johanna Nordblad holds the world record for a 50-meter dive under ice. She discovered her love for the sport through cold-water treatment while recovering from a downhill biking accident that almost took her leg. British director and photographer Ian Derry captures her taking a plunge under the Arctic ice.

Johanna Under The Ice – NOWNESS from NOWNESS on Vimeo.

The temperature dropped in a matter of days. First it was -5 degrees celsius, then -12, then -18*. Although it has snowed next to none so far, we can say that winter has taken over the vast commune of Kittilä in western Lapland.

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The river Ounasjoki froze overnight. Everything froze. Now you can hear what total silence sounds like.

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When it’s really cold, the eastern sky turns pink during the sunset. Until of course the sun no longer rises and the polar night begins in a few weeks.

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Even during the coldest of winter days one might get some visitors.

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Can you guess who’s there, behind all that snow?

 

 

*-5 degrees Celsius is equal to 23 degrees Fahrenheit,
-12°C = 10,4°F
-18°C = -0,4°F

The winter is coming, sooner or later. Do you already have winter holiday plans? If not, why not try something new, some new outdoor activity. Push yourself to the limit and overcome your fears if you have some.

I fought my fears last February and tried ice climbing. I had climbed once before, but that was over 10 years ago. After that I had some thoughts that I never could climb again. For some reason I had managed to create a fear of techical climbing.

When my birthday got closer I decided to spend a holiday on my own. That would be a present for myself. A vacation when I could do anything I wanted (or was able) to do.

I travelled to Lapland with my two dogs to have a week for myself. Couple of days just relaxing and wondering the lousy weather! It was February but it was raining and the temperature was just above zero. Still I did not let this stop me from having a great time.

Then came the big day, I drove to the ski resort of Ruka for ice climbing! I had butterflies in my stomach, but when I met my guide Jussi and the other climber, I felt much better and relaxed.

Jussi told us what kinds of things we could expect to happen during the day and showed all the gears we needed. He then instructed us how to wear big climbing boots, harness and gaiters.

The gaiters were necessary because of the crampons, just in case if you hit your foot against the other by accident you may break your trousers. We put the crampons on and started walking like ducks towards the ice wall.

The ice wall is located in the middle of the slalom ski slopes, so we had to walk carefully and be aware of the downhill skiers. Up we went, and when I saw the ice wall I was very excited, not afraid anymore. The ice wall is made by both nature and man. It is about 35 meters high. The company that organizes these climbing expeditions also keeps the ice wall in good shape.

Our guide Jussi showed us how to use the ice axe. Then he prepared the top rope in place, and suddenly it was our time to climb! First I stayed down and with the help of Jussi I either tigtened or slacked the rope while the other climber was going up and then descending.

Then it was my turn. The rope was tight and I hit the first hit with the ice axes. Yes, I had two ice axes, one for both hand.

The meaning is to hit the ice axe just above your head with straight hands. Then you step up and hit your toes straight against the ice wall. The crampons have also forward pointing spikes that help you stand in steep wall. You just have to trust them! And that is difficult while your brain keeps saying ’that is not possible, is that possible, can you really stand there…!’

By the second attempt I managed to reach the top! I conquerred Mount Ruka!

I have to admit that during the climb I lost all of my selfconfidence and yelled out to Jussi that I am coming down, cannot go further. Jussi was so calm and he just shouted me back that ’hey, you can do it, just move a little bit closer to the ice wall, then to the right etc’. I might have said a few bad words to myself at first, but then thought a while and slowly moved my leg to the right.

I knew nothing bad would happen to me, Jussi kept the rope very tight and helped me ascend to the top! Oh, that feeling! I was so proud of myself, took some photos there still hanging on the ropes, admiring the views of the cloudy and rainy day.

Then I heard Jussi’s voice…’are you coming down, I’ll loose the rope for you so you can lean back and start walking down’. I looked down… a mistake! I was on a high place on a steep ice wall and now Jussi wants me to LEAN BACK! My legs started to shake, I felt like Elvis! Twist and shout… Come on woman, you can do it, I repeated to myself.

And I did it. I dared to lean back and I took the first step down, after that it was easy and I enjoyed it a lot. And when I hit the ground I felt like a hero! I was so grateful to Jussi. Without his encouragement I would not have made it.

So if you also want to try some new outdoor activity, I do recommend ice climbing in Northern Finland!

Ice climbing and other activities organized by: www.outdoorpassion.fi

Ski resort Ruka

Powder snow… Everybody in Lapland knows what it is, how wonderful, soft and light it is. It is anxiously anticipated until the crust of snow finally gets deep and fluffy as ever.

It can be described with words and pictures but you actually understand the real fun and loveliness of it only when you experience it first hand.

On the morning of February 1, just when the sun was only preparing to spread warm rays on the vast Lapland, we headed to the ice of the mighty Ounasjoki river to experience the thick and untouched crust of powder snow. According to the information provided by the nearest measuring point, the depth of snow was at 77 cm but the wind had thrown the snow blanket even higher at some locations.

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At a short distance, on the river there is a sandy island which, I heard, had gotten a thick blanket of snow during winter. So, there we went and leaped into the snow!

Our feet fell deep into it as we stepped down from the snowmobile – at first the snow was knee deep, then even deeper with the slightest move we made. We trudged in the fluffy snow, enjoying every moment like children. The air was still and quiet, and it was lovely to follow the arrival of daylight onto the powder snow of Ounasjoki river.

I use to make first contact with untouched snow by dropping into it with straight legs; this is how I sometimes lie in the snow at home by night, watching northern lights and listening to music through my earphones.

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I wore as many as two hoods over my head and made sure that the bandana scarf stayed right where it was supposed to. I also checked that I had pulled the zipper of my coat all the way up and that I had closed my pocket – should my phone have slipped down into the snow, it might have been lost forever.

Ready? Let’s jump!

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No, I’m not Chewbacca, I just forgot to tie my hair up.

Preparing for the leap wasn’t all that simple because my feet sank into the soft powder snow even when I tried to stamp it down to make a solid base.

You need to have proper clothing, for rolling in the snow is fun only if you manage to stay warm and dry. Just having cold toes can easily ruin the experience! That is why I always wear winter boots and other outdoor winter clothing for this purpose.

The winter coat must be wind-proof and warm. It is good to have snow locks at sleeves and hem to prevent snow from slipping inside your clothes. For that purpose, it is also good to wear suspenders on your winter trousers and to have snow locks at trouser legs, too.

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Snow locks and warm mittens prevent powder snow from entering the sleeves.

Our boots plunged countless times deep into the snow on the sandy island. There were a few more stable layers of snow in between but then with a step forward we might plunge even deeper.

It is hard to make through a crust of snow like this but the fun makes up for it! The snow is like the most comfortable armchair when you sit in it – it feels like sitting on fluffy air. When you do that and take a look around at the vast Lappish landscape, it always makes you feel like you could stay there forever.

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You might actually have to stay there for good because standing up is not easy at all. I was reminded of that first hand for the umpteenth time…

At that point, the snow locks and proper mittens prove to be extremely useful; the soft snow doesn’t really help in getting up. You try to use your hand as a support but it plunges deeper and deeper into the snowy abyss. Then you try the other hand and both legs, with no better results. The more you struggle, the deeper you fall into the snow! First you are in a sitting position trying to get up, only to end up lying with your back against the cold.

I began to laugh at myself. What a desperate mess! I rolled myself into some kind of a crawling position and tried to lift my body by crawling backwards. The attempt was a successful one, judging from the fact that I am no longer there, in the snow.

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All this might make you think of the cold but in fact if you are properly dressed, it won’t get anywhere near your body. Playing in the snow actually makes you sweat!

For as long as you have fun in one spot, you don’t need snowshoes or skis. They are made for transportation and they would only ruin the snow immersion experience.

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Just like Finnish Lapland in general, untouched snow when approached with the right mindset is a sure remedy for all kinds of moodiness and grumpiness. When an adult finally has a chance to play like a lemming in the infinite soft snow, joy and laughter are only natural to burst out.