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In commercial cooperation with VisitKarelia

Article by Terhi Ilosaari

On my day of departure, Southern Finland had been released from the grips of winter. The road had thawed and was watery all the way to Kuopio. Then along came a snowstorm. The landscape was completely white, nothing but dusty clouds of white. On arrival at The Puukarin Pysäkki Guesthouse, relief set in – it’s winter in Valtimo. Although I had managed to get there in one piece, my car got stuck in a snowbank. I got to know the members of our three-day Guesthouse to Guesthouse ski tour group as well as the hosts during our evening exercise session in the snow. We pushed the car back onto the road.

Puukarin Pysäkki’s granary accommodation

The Guesthouse to Guesthouse tour is a full service cross-country ski tour in North Karelia with daily skiing distances averaging 25km. However, we forgot all about the upcoming trip as the guesthouse hostess Anni delighted us with her Karelian food and hilarious tales. Bowls and baskets were passed around the table, each raw ingredient and dish with its own story.

Puukarin Pysäkki’s bread oven and the old landlady’s traditional rye bread

‘Remember, there’s no rush with the skiing’, the hostess calls out as we roll to our beds with full tummies. Outside the window, so much snow was falling that the yard lights were covered under a thick blanket.

From Puukarin Pysäkki to Laitalan Loma

Puukarin Pysäkki’s host showed us the day’s route. A little worried, we asked what colour signs we should follow and how to find the right track.

‘There’s only one track, and I’m about to go ahead of you and make it’, he reassured us.

And so it was. We, the privileged few, got a fresh, unspoiled track made especially for us.

The route mainly went through fields that were sleeping under diamond-encrusted snow, low-lying and leisurely. You don’t need to know any special skiing techniques or even have downhill-skied. It’s enough if you can stay upright on your skis. The adventurer in me wanted to go off-track, but I soon realised that there’s over a metre of snow and it’s really soft and easy to sink into! On this tour you can use almost any type of ski. Poles should have a slightly bigger basket than usual.

Lost, but in a good way

Skiing at a slow, easy pace, enraptured by the snow and warmed by the sun, it’s easy for your thoughts to wander off into the unknown. I forgot who and where I was. It was only the first day of skiing and I had already lost track of the days of the week and where I was on this planet.

Our group skied unhurriedly in small, 2-3 person groups. After the halfway point, a small cute kota (type of Lappish hut) emerged from the edge of the field. When we got there, we all opened our lunchboxes with delight. Hollola’s skiing demons were already jumping back onto the track, as the last group could just be seen waving from the other side of the field.

Perfection at the kota

‘Everything is as perfect as it can be’, sighed one group member during the lunch break. Another followed with: ‘Even as a pessimist I can’t seem to find anything wrong’.

Everyone started talking about an abandoned house on the riverbank that they had been admiring along the way 

One person pondered out loud how the children would have travelled to school, another speculated how much property tax one pays, the third person thought about who had built the house and cleared the plot when the house had to be vacated, the fourth wondered why there was no barn. The fifth person just said ‘what a beautiful house!’

I wondered how much it would cost to rent the house for a whole summer, how much it would need to be heated in the summer, how many mice would need to be caught and would it be an endless work camp or would I have time to write alongside being the house’s caretaker?

To ski or paddle?

Alongside the route flows the river Karhujoki, which means that you can do the same trip by kayak or canoe in the summer. The gentle silence of Karhujoki is interrupted by the Neitivirta rapids, in which the cruel tax collector Simo Hurtta lost his maiden. ‘What of the wretched girl, but there went a good saddle’, the mean taxman is claimed to have said.

Our ski track-making machine, luxuriously in private use

With lunch in our bellies, the journey to our destination flew by without us noticing. We had clocked up about twenty kilometres on skis. In the yard I felt a moment of dismay… where had I left my belongings! In recent weeks, I had been hiking with my sled and rucksack, unpacking and packing, drying my sleeping bag and hammock. I sighed with relief when I remembered that my luggage had been transported by car to the destination hours before me.

Ski’s resting in Laitalan Loma’s yard

At the door of the guesthouse, our hostess Henna called us to come inside. The coffee was hot and karelian pies with egg butter were warm. This was followed by pancakes and three different types of jam.

Taken care of by a cranky old woman

Henna, the hostess of the second house told us the following:

‘Laitala farm was originally my in-laws’ dairy farm. It’s where my husband and I spent all our weekends. Leaving to return to the daily grind in Kuopio was always difficult. Suddenly one day, the in-laws suggested that it was time to hand down the farm to the next generation and soon we were in the yard with our moving trucks. As I sat on those steps, a curlew sang and I thought: I don’t need to go anywhere else anymore.’

Our minds were already travelling to the next guesthouse. After the first day on fields it was nice to weave in and out in the shelter of the forests. The track sloped up and down in parts, but was still easy to ski. Gentle snowfall softened the rest of the sounds in the landscape. The very thought of ‘ski-track rage’ made me almost giggle hysterically.

The Rhythm of the Track

As I was preparing to leave, I contemplated with friends who are as greedy for endurance exercise as I am, if this kind of trip was really my thing. Should I go and jog an extra circuit in the morning or keep skiing a bit further down the track in the evening? The atmosphere on this laidback trip is different. The world became meditative. Despite my hesitation, I slotted right into the daily pace: breakfast at 9, lunch into the backpack, bags to transportation, track, new guesthouse, afternoon coffee and treats, sauna, dinner at the guesthouse with stories and then slipped into unconsciousness.

A coffee break with real locals

Hulkkola farm could be seen from the edge of the field. Raija and Aimo invited us in for the halfway coffee. Sat around the kitchen table, with cardamom buns in our mouths, we listened to the story of the house, which although unique is also similar to that of many other houses we had admired on our journey.

Parents or grandparents planned the house using matchboxes. Modern architects would question how well these sorts of blueprints worked, but the house was built for oneself and so it was known exactly what was needed. When handed down to the next generation, electricity, children and running water inside were added. People got on with life. Children went out into the world, and then there was no-one to continue the farm.

The last cow was led out from the cowshed and now the house was regularly being heated only using the bread oven, evenly, in the quietening landscape. We were comforted by log walls and a stunning landscape. At the same time, somewhere in the world, someone is bumping into someone else against their will in a cramped metro. How can one send a package of this space and peacefulness to those who need it the most?

How many long to get to know normal local life, rather than engage in the usual tourism? This is now it. Genuine and ordinary. The cottage table and cardamom buns straight out of the oven next to it. A host, who was born in this very house.

A miserable blizzard

In the afternoon the snowfall was more intense. The track was wet and soft, the landscape white from top to bottom. Ahead of us was the final spurt. Four kilometres to Viemen lake on top of the 20 that we had already skied. The snow spa massaged our faces without asking. Water that had risen above the ice made the snow stick to the bottom of the skis. Today we were working hard to reach our destination. I added skins to my skis to prevent clods of snow sticking to the bottom. I think with horror about how tough the rest of the route is for those who don’t have a plan B in their rucksacks.

My thoughts turned from the lake ice to the next guesthouse, of which I only knew the name: Pihlajapuu, run by entrepeneurs Äksyt Ämmät. This kind of trip was a lot of fun after all! In the afternoons we got to open a completely new present, the door of a new guesthouse. The present was always pleasant and delectable, but also new and surprising. The two first guesthouses exuded old wisdom from their solid log walls, but with this third one you can immediately sense fun and a touch of saffron right on the doorstep.

With our coffee we got to sample kukkonen, baked rounds golden with egg butter. Talk around the table focused on the ghastliness of the weather and comparing ski waxes. I suspect new skin-based skis are going to make it on the shopping lists of many.

Gentle steam and a cranky woman

At this guesthouse, you can book a massage if you wish. Blissed out, sauna’d and massaged skiers arrived at the buffet table. While we had been in the sauna, Minna the host had prepared flame-blazed salmon, and the chef had braised beets in the oven. But before eating, we received a splash of Kiteen Kirkas, the famous distilled spirit from the hostess’s home county.

Minna told us that in the beginning, permission had to be sought from 90 landowners along the ski route, and now it had gone up to 220. As Minna told her stories of seeking and asking for permission we saw small flashes of the cranky woman that her business was named after (Äksyt Ämmät means cranky old women), but otherwise the lady of the house was of a very good disposition.

Guesthouse Pihlajapuu dessert

Bomba’s Tracks

There was a small hamlet in Nurmes, where names were briskly collected on a list. The village wanted its own school. A trusted man was sent on his skis to deliver the message, with the name list in his pocket. On the way the skier sank into a ditch, but at the last minute saved the inky list from a soggy end. The village got its school.

In Bomba’s yard, leaving for the final day of skiing

Winter arrived this year in Northern Karelia later than usual. Lakes did not form a proper layer of ice, before snow started to fall. That’s why the lakes are now full of puddles. The last day of skiing to the fourth guesthouse was mostly on Lake Pielinen. One of our group asked if we could move our route onto Bomba’s tracks in Nurmes. It was agreed. We managed to avoid the same fate as the school hero and got to ski with dry feet.

Majatalo Pihlajapuu, previously a village school. The classroom invites you to stay a while longer.

The quiet, one-way track switched to the back of a taxi with a chatty taxi driver and then to wide tracks that were in very good condition. The snowstorm from the previous day had calmed down. Birds tested their voices as if to ask: can we start to sing our spring song yet?

Along Lake Pielinen

For the last stretch to the guesthouse, we moved along a track just made for us, in Pielinen’s peaceful snow flurries, each person going at their own pace.

Männikkölä Cottage´s vatruska rounds in a basket

It felt quite strange to ski right there, on Finland’s fourth largest lake. Only a stone’s throw south was Koli’s shore. If on that shore a group of good people hadn’t offered my father a boat ride over the lake, my father wouldn’t have got to school, or ended up getting an education in Joensuu, or met my mother. If that group of partygoers hadn’t taken my penniless future father on board, maybe I wouldn’t exist.

The track ends in a courtyard of red houses. Red ochre paint could be seen here and there amongst the snowdrifts. All the buildings were buried under the snow. This would be a good place to hibernate like a moomin. I might just stay here.

A skier who has skied for 30 years on Lapland’s ski-tracks sighs:

‘There’s too much of everything in Lapland! I can’t relax, because I want to take part in everything from ski boot dances to evening shows and in between go do the rounds on all the tracks. This is something completely special. Here I can really relax.

The Guesthouse to Guesthouse route in a nutshell

The Guesthouse to Guesthouse is a full service cross country ski tour. The package includes overnights in four guesthouses full board, saunas, tracks made especially for the group, luggage transfers between accommodation and trip information.

Food is mostly organic and local and of the region.

The route goes from Valtimo’s Puukarin Pysäkki Majatalo in Pohjois Karjala to Salmenkyla in Nurmes on the shores of Lake Pielinen. Daily distances are about 25km. There are three skiing days, but you can of course extend your holiday at either end. In  the summer, you can do the route by paddling or by bike. Dogs are also welcome on the ski tracks. Even though the journey might sound long, a basic level skier can manage it on pretty much any kind of ski – you have the whole day and the only things on the programme in addition to skiing is sauna and meals.

The Ski Tour Package is brought to you by Northern Karelian entrepreneurs working in close cooperation. Read more and book your own trip here!

From Guesthouse to Guesthouse Tour accommodation:

Majatalo Puukarin Pysäkki

Kajaanintie 844, 75700 Valtimo

Laitalan Lomat

Laitalantie 85, 75710 Karhunpää

Majatalo Pihlajapuu

Salmenkyläntie 81, 75500 Nurmes

Männikkölän Pirtti (in Finnish)

Pellikanlahdentie 1, 75530 Nurmes

Translation by Becky Hastings

Lapland. That mystical wonderland in far North. One of the most exciting places in Lapland is a fell named Pallas, or Pallastunturi. Today I’m telling you about my hike to the highest peak of Pallas during winter.

Christmas and new years time is well spent in Lapland. Polar night and Northern lights are the best reality TV for me. What could a photographer enjoy more? I started my journey from the parking lot of Hotel Pallas. The weather was nice and clear. Temperature -20 degrees (celsius) but I wasn’t worried about that. The climb would keep me warm. I was using snowshoes although some people were hiking in winter boots. Start was the easy part and the path was clear.

Wooden cabin

The first point was a small wooden cabin. After that path became steeper and I was glad to have my snowshoes.

One small step…

The view was so amazing that I just had to stop to photograph the landscape every now and then. Slowly rising Sun created colors so unreal.

The view is getting more and more magical

Higher I got, the colder the wind became. Landscape also transformed more arctic.

This way or that way

About 50 meters before the top something unexpected happened. The Sun rose. Just a little bit, but still visibly. During polar winter the Sun should not get up this far North. Later back in the Hotel they told me that the highest peak is high enough for the Sun to reveal itself during clear skies.

WOOW

Here I was, on top of the peak watching this light show. It took me about 2,5 hours to get up there. Then I spent 1 hour just photographing the view. Some people were skiing down the hill but I had my trusted snow shoes. So no fast track down.

“Candyland”

Suddenly I felt like a 7-year-old kid in a candy store. So much “stuff” I had to enjoy before it ends.

Something I will remember all my life

Slowly the Sun started to set. During polar winter the light in the sky is like a 4-hour sunrise/sunset. Then it gets dark again.

Coming down went a bit faster. I was back at the Hotel’s parking lot about 45 minutes later. Temperature was now -25 degrees, but I was still warm enough and my 32 gigabytes memory card full of “candy”.

If you like my photos, please follow me on instagram @anttiphotography. Thank you so much.

Snow creates some interesting shadows.

Over the last half a year or so, I have been experimenting more with my photography here in the Finnish nature. I’ve focused on big landscapes as well as focused in on the smaller details. My time spent in the forest, on the islands and near the lakes have been nothing short of spectacular. Below are some photos that I’ve taken over the last few months (from around July to December), here in wonderful Finland.

Above: A warm, summer scene within a small patch of bitch trees. Since Finland has many colder months, it almost makes the summer feel more special in a way. I’m lucky in that I enjoy all the variety throughout the seasons 🙂

Above: A sunset in July at around 23.00. This photo was taken along the river Pielisjoki in Joensuu.

Above: Another intimate summer photo. The time spent outdoors around sunset brings some fantastic and eye-catching glowing patches amongst the Finnish landscapes.

Above: Somewhere on an island near Tuusiniemi at around 03.00 in the beginning of September. I made plans especially for this night since it was predicted that the northern lights may appear. I spent the night camping near a summer cottage and was once again blown away by this incredible show of light. The aurora have become really special to me and I’m incredibly grateful to be in Finland so that I may experience them in person.

Above: Another photo from that night.

Above: Autumn. When autumn kicks in, you’ll know all about it 🙂 If I had to pick my favourite season in Finland, this would be it. The golden leaves, foggy mornings and starry nights make it a clear winner in my books.

Above: Trees in the fog on a fresh and crisp morning in Kontiolahti. This morning had an incredibly mysterious feeling to it, and I had to stop several times to pinch myself and check that I wasn’t dreaming 🙂

Above: A view of the treetops on a misty and snowy day. I climbed to the top of a nearby hill to take this photo and really enjoyed seeing the layers upon layers of forest fading into the distance.

Above: An October moonrise with an amazing halo of light above some forest in Joensuu. This is something that I’ve never really tried to photograph but thought it would be interesting to capture.

Above: Some finer details along the floor of an autumn forest. Interesting things may be at your feet 🙂

Above: Misty birch forest.

Above: Another misty autumn scene.

Above: A rocky lake shore in Joensuu at the end of October. No matter what I do with my photography, I always end up back in places like this. There is a sense of tranquility that is hard to find elsewhere.

Above: A November landscape at my favourite local spot. The water has become cold and icy.

Above: Icy patterns on a frozen lake shore. The small details can sometimes be quite interesting as well.

Above: This is my most recent photo from Joensuu (around 3rd December). The lakes are freezing up and creating interesting shapes of ice these days. One has to visit regularly to see all the amazing changes from day to day.

That was it for the last few months in Finland! I look forward to the amazing winter and what interesting photographic opportunities it may bring. Also, I just enjoy being outdoors regardless of whether I have my camera with me or not 🙂 I hope that all of you have an amazing winter and enjoy your festival season.

See you out there!

Polar night has officially begun in the North and the whole of Lapland is already covered with a thick layer of snow. Here are some photos that I have taken during this last month in the areas of Kittilä, Muonio and Sodankylä. I hope you enjoy them – see how beautiful Lapland can be in November!

Above: Sun shining in a snowy forest near Levitunturi fell. In the beginning of November there was still some bright sunlight that we could enjoy. Day by day there was less and less sunshine and now it’s almost completely gone.

Above: Afternoon moments by Jerisjärvi lake. These little houses are very old but fishermen still use them actively – Jerisjärvi is famous for having lots of fish. This was a really cold day: it was -22 degrees celcius or about -8 degrees Fahrenheit.

Above: Some last rays of sunlight make this snowy forest look almost pink. This photo was taken by Kitinen river in Sodankylä.

Above: My friend on top of Levitunturi fell. Levitunturi or Levi is a cool place because it’s easy to reach: a road leads to the top and there’s even a parking lot and a café!

Above: This was a cloudy day, no sunshine whatsoever. I saw a white reindeer walking alone on the ice of Ounasjoki river. The reindeer noticed me as well and looked at me.

Above: Not all waters freeze even during the coldest winter nights. This photo shows what it looks like in Immelkaltio spring near Levitunturi fell.

Above: I took a picture of myself standing in the middle of some beautiful snowy trees. We had had lots of fresh snow the previous day.

Above: a whooper swan on Jerisjärvi lake. There’s a part of this lake that does not freeze – each year there are some whooper swans that decide to stay here instead of heading South. Whooper swan is the national bird of Finland.

Above: In Lapland there’s not much, if any light pollution. That’s why spotting the Milky Way is relatively easy, as long as there are no clouds.

I live over 150 km above the Arctic Circle. Here it’s quite common to have snow on the ground in October, but this year the start of the winter was unusually sudden. Here are 12 photos that I have taken during the last ten days – see for yourself how winter arrived!

Above: Frosty morning in a swamp in Kittilä (October 11th). Bog bilberry is one of the last plants to have some beautiful autumn colors. Most plants have dropped their leaves by now.

Above: Nature getting ready for winter in Varkaankuru, Kolari (October 13th).

Above: First snow near Pallastunturi, Muonio (October 14th).

Above: Lake Pallasjärvi is starting to freeze (October 14th).

Above: Swimming in Ounasjoki river (October 16th) only 24 hrs before ice started to appear.

Above: Snowy larch forest in Kittilä (October 18th).

Above: Winter is officially here! About 10 centimeters of snow in Kittilä (October 19th).

Above: Forest river is not ready to freeze just yet (Kittilä, October 19th).

Above: First sunny winter day 2019 in Kittilä. Forest and rocks are covered in snow (October 19th).

Above: Northern lights and the Moon above the frozen Ounasjoki river (October 19th).

Above: There’s still time before the polar night begins, but its colors can already be seen. This photo was taken early in the morning, but in mid winter this is what noon would look like. (October 20th).

Above: Reindeer on a road in Raattama (October 21st).

This past winter here has been a bit different for me in terms of photography. I focused less on creating my more typical landscapes and tried to introduce a more human element into my images. I wanted to somehow show what it feels like to experience the amazing and surrealistic side of the Finnish wintertime. Whether it’s watching the sun go down in the middle of the day, or witnessing my city becoming hidden from snowfall, I had some fantastically memorable experiences this time around, and now I’d like to share a few of these memories with you. Here are some photos from winter.

Above: My favourite local island ”Voiluoto”, sits on the frozen lake in the chilly and fresh weather. I love how soft and calm the scene appeared on that particular day. It was almost like the clouds appeared as markings from a paintbrush pressed flat onto a canvas.

Above: Curves of snow sweep along the lake at sunset. I decided to put myself in the image to show the scope and vastness of the scene. It was really a beautiful moment to behold.

Above: Not my most interesting photo, but I just found it to be a very simple way of showing the snowy treetops on a typical overcast and wintery day here in Finland. I really enjoy the contrast that the snow has with the darker shadows from the trees.

Above: A night spent exploring under the stars at twilight. I was waiting for the sky to get darker so that I could do some astrophotography, but whether you’re into photography or not, I highly recommend having a nice winter walk after sunset. It’s amazing when the last glow of sunlight stretches across the horizon and the stars start to pop up in the sky. Just remember to dress warmly and to take precaution when venturing outdoors, especially on the lakes.

Above: In this image I wanted to recreate the beautiful sense of mystery that the Finnish winter scenery can provide. The frozen lakes and night sky can make a great combination for photography, or even if you just want to experience the other-worldly atmosphere without a camera.

Above: There was one particularly stormy day here in Joensuu. The snow was coming down like crazy and the wind was blowing like mad. This image was taken just outside of the city, showing someone skiing through the stormy conditions. I found this stormy weather to be fascinating, so I sheltered myself under a tree, set up my tripod and took this shot.

Above: Another moment venturing outdoors. The winter weather can occasionally be so wintery that it conceals everything in the distance, making for some awesome and simplistic photography. Just to experience it feels like you are in a dream, or up in the clouds!

Above: Sitting on the lake one night with my lantern. The air was incredibly frosty and refreshing. This image would probably round-up my experience over the last season best. The adventure, moody and mysterious darkness, crisp air and spectacular snowy landscapes all combined to make it a winter worth remembering.

Although the winter is cold and dark, there is a strange and wonderful side to it. There is something special about Finland and its nature all throughout the year, and I think that however you wish to experience it, there is always something special to find or some alluring moment to take in. Now that spring is here and the lakes are starting to thaw again, I can’t help but feel excited for the summer, even though I know that a part of me will miss the ice-cold beauty that winter has to offer. Anyways, it’s all good stuff over here 🙂

Hope that you all had a great snowy season and that you have a fantastic spring! See you out there in the nature.

-Jason

Deep in the forests of Eastern Finland, there lies a peaceful and unspoiled place. Here, one can find snow that goes knee deep and frozen trees that tower all around. It is totally quiet here, and it is possible to be in harmony with nature while walking through these woods.

This place is Koli National park, and last winter I was lucky enough to explore this snowy realm. I have put together a 12-photo album of this adventure as I make my way to the Ukko-Koli, where one can see one of the most spectacular views in all of Finland. The hiking trail is the forest walk which can be taken from the Koli village (Kolinkylä) to the lookout at Ukko-Koli, overlooking lake Pielinen.

The first thing I was greeted with was fluffy snow peacefully adorning the branches of the many trees. Old spruces and birches grow in these protected forests.

I was sinking knee-deep into the snow with every step, but it made for a more memorable adventure.

There is no better place to be mindful of the surroundings and enjoy the delicacy of nature. Koli has inspired artists for centuries.

A lonely sign could be found along the hiking trail, guiding the way through these mysterious white forests.

‘The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.’ – John Muir

Walking through these peaceful landscapes was indeed very calming and relaxing for the mind.

The walk is also about the little things, such as the fresh cold air.

With every passing minute on the walk, the views get better and better. Even a ski area can be found here.

Then, at last, I reached the summit, where the iconic ‘National view of Finland’ can be found. It was an unforgettable sight. The lake Pielinen lies ice-covered in the distance, as misty clouds cast their shroud over some of the frozen pine woods.

Once, long ago, great glaciers shaped these landscapes. Back then, the land was permanently frozen under glacial ice caps which didn’t melt for thousands of years.

Some of the greatest trees can be found here. They span from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts in what is known as the Main Taiga, the world’s largest ecosystem.

On the way back down, I found a traditional cozy winter cottage with its gates lying open in welcome.

And finally back again at my homely accommodation, Kolin Ryynänen, a traditional wooden lodge.

Every year, the fells of Saariselkä are covered by a layer of fluffy white snow. This ski centre, the northernmost in Europe, boasts a myriad of beautiful slopes, fun sledging hills, well-maintained ski trails and guided treks, guaranteeing a memorable holiday.

Text: Helena Sahavirta, Photos: Panu Pohjola

In Saariselkä, the ski season is guaranteed to last from November to May – perhaps even longer, as in the past the ski centre has opened its doors on three days in June to offer its visitors the memorable experience of skiing on slopes lit by the midnight sun.

The natural snow in Saariselkä is of excellent quality and lasts until late spring on the slopes between two fells, where beginners can find suitable courses and more experienced skiers can try their hands at tricks. Saariselkä also boasts two extra long sledging slopes, one of which is the longest in Finland. On this 1,800 metre run, daredevils can whizz down from the top of Kaunispää all the way to the lower chairlift terminal. The toboggan slope is illuminated with aurora-inspired light art.

In December the sun never rises in Saariselkä, but the ski centre’s well-lit slopes guarantee that the winter fun doesn’t have to stop. The polar night brings its own magical atmosphere to Saariselkä – and the arrival of spring offers another enchanting experience when the days get longer and the April sun glistens on the snow like a thousand diamonds.

Even for visitors who have never experienced snow before, learning downhill skiing, snowboarding, sledging and cross-country skiing is safe and fun with Ski Saariselkä’s professional instructors. To ensure safety, the beginner slopes and other practice facilities have been designed with novice skiers in mind.

The ski resort of Saariselkä boasts about 200 kilometres of well-maintained ski trails, 34 kilometres of which are illuminated. With its vast wilderness area, Urho Kekkonen National Park, situated a stone’s throw from the ski centre, offers great opportunities for cross-country skiing and trekking. A map of the ski trails is available online at infogis.fi/saariselka.

Snowmobile safaris into the wilderness

Playing in the snow comes naturally to children, and the unspoilt, snowy forest often brings out the inner child in many adults too, who find themselves building snowmen and making ‘snow angels’.

For some, on the other hand, snow may be such a novelty that they feel slightly nervous about the unfamiliar conditions. For this reason, Saariselkä’s winter safari organisers often pick up their customers from the hotel or Saariselkä centre and kit them out in warm snowsuits. They also rent outdoor gear such as snowsuits, skis, snowshoes, sliding snowshoes and sleds to DIY travellers, as well as offering ski waxing services. Shops in Saariselkä sell a wide range of winter clothing, from socks and thermal underwear to hats and outerwear.

Lapland Safaris’ most popular excursion, the Aurora Borealis Safari, takes visitors on a hunt for the Northern Lights half an hour’s drive, or an hour’s snowmobile ride, away. Situated by a large lake, the viewing spot, far from any artificial lights, has been selected to maximise the chances of seeing this incredible natural display. Also fat bike treks are organised along snow-covered forest roads to a frozen lake for a spot of ice fishing.

Snowmobile safaris offer adventures in the forest and on the fells.

Northern Lights Village also offers a variety of winter activities, including tuition in cross-country skiing and photographing the Northern Lights. Children over the age of three can put their skills to the test on a children’s snowmobile. In addition to an ordinary restaurant, the hotel boasts a snow restaurant where diners can sample drinks and savour á la carte dishes while seated on ice benches covered with reindeer rugs. The hotel has its own reindeer farm, and visitors can discover a world of Arctic adventures right on the hotel’s doorstep, including snowmobile, reindeer and husky safaris.

Ice fishing on a frozen lake

Joiku-Kotsamo Safaris, run by a local Sámi family, offers a variety of reindeer safaris. Once the ground is covered by a layer of snow, reindeer-pulled sled rides are arranged every evening. On these two-hour outings, you can scan the skies for the magnificent Northern Lights before stopping to warm up by a campfire with some hot drinks. During the day, the reindeer safaris weave their way through snowy pine forests.

In December, when lakes get their ice cover, fishing on a frozen lake makes for a memorable experience. After riding to the lake on a snowmobile, you can fish for Arctic char and grayling through a hole cut in the ice. Your catch is transformed into a mouth-watering fish soup, washed down with coffee brewed on a campfire.

In the daytime, snowmobile safaris, lasting either two or three hours, take visitors to admire the majestic fell scenery, while in the evening the goal is to make an Aurora Borealis sighting. The reindeer farm also has a traditional Lappish log cabin where you can enjoy authentic Sámi delicacies: smoked reindeer, salmon cooked on an open fire and Arctic berries, with the experience completed by Sámi yoik and folktales. Advance booking is required.

Snow safaris arranged by Lapin Luontolomat take visitors through vast northern forests to the shore of a lake, known for its clear water, where they are welcomed by a log cabin, sauna, hot tub, lean-to and a fisherman’s cottage. This spot under starry skies makes for an idyllic setting for ice-fishing and enjoying a candlelit meal by a campfire, while keeping an eye out for the Northern Lights. The open fire is also perfect for grilling sausages.

Local delicacies can also be savoured at the cabin, which seats 50 people and serves lunches and dinners with yoik as an accompaniment. The place, though far from urban noise and artificial lights, is easy to reach by car and snowmobile. For those looking for a real adventure, a longer snowmobile safari to the Russian border is an ideal choice.

With its wide range of activities, Saariselkä offers something for everyone – whether you are in search of action-packed adventures or relaxation amid Lapland’s magical landscapes.

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Inari-Saariselkä – Far in the North

Text and photos: Rayann Elzein

I am going on my eight consecutive winter chasing the elusive Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, all around Inari, in the very north of Finnish Lapland. Sure, I have also seen the Aurora in Norway and even Greenland, but every single winter I am drawn back to Inari for photography and to help people enjoy this magnificent show of nature. I am often asked “why do you always go back to Inari?” or “why don’t you try somewhere else?”. I always wanted to experience the northern lights, but at first the only thing I knew was that I had to go somewhere north. But where north? So after a long process and weeks of research I set my mind on Inari.

Inari is right under the Aurora oval

The Aurora Borealis appears under a huge doughnut shaped ring that is centred on earth’s magnetic north pole. Without getting too much into the science, this means that if you travel to a location right under the “doughnut”, or Aurora oval, you maximise your chances to see the northern lights, even when the activity is very low.

Inari is located at 68°50’N – 265 km (165 mi) north of the Arctic Circle. This positions Inari right under the ring, almost guaranteeing to see some northern lights on a clear night. This probability based on scientific facts is the most important criteria in my decision to visit Inari and return there so often.

An excellent road network

When you want to see the northern lights, you go “Aurora chasing” with a guide or your own car. In reality, it would be more accurate to say that you are chasing the good weather as you cannot see the Aurora if you are under clouds. Although I am no meteorologist, my personal opinion is that there are often clear nights around Inari. However, if this does not happen during your stay, don’t worry: there are several roads radiating from Inari to all directions. You might even end up on the shore of a fjord in Norway! This makes it very easy to chase the good weather.

Some words of caution: when you are driving yourself, be careful in difficult weather. You also have to be careful of reindeer and elk that are frequently standing or sleeping right in the middle of the road. If you don’t have experience with winter driving, or just want to relax and not worry about anything, then hiring one of the several professional guides is a safer idea.

Much more than just Aurora

There are many places in the world that are located under the Aurora ring but only few of them are inhabited and accessible. Despite being located so far north of the Arctic Circle, Inari-Saariselkä offers a full range of state-of-the-art tourism facilities: comfortable hotels, excellent restaurants, safari companies with a broad range of services. The entire area is also culturally rich, as the home of the Sami people. You can learn a lot about this at the Siida museum. And for a total immersion, an excursion with a reindeer herder will teach you more than any museum (you can even pet the reindeer!)

How to photograph the Aurora

With these few recommendations and just a bit of practice, it is actually quite easy to take some good Aurora photos. A camera with manual mode and a tripod are all that you need. The basic settings that you can use are the following:

  • Sensitivity: +/- 1600 iso
  • Aperture: the largest possible aperture (the smallest number on your lens, i.e. f/2.8-3.5-4)
  • Shutter speed: this one depends on the brightness of the Aurora. Start at 10 seconds and move up or down depending on what you see on your camera screen.

Focussing is the hardest thing to do at night. If you don’t manage to focus on stars, ask someone to stand about 30 meters from you with a flash light, and use auto focus on this light. Then switch to manual focus (MF) and don’t touch this setting anymore.

Tip: practice with your cameras before going out for Aurora, so that you know where all the settings are.

Aurora chasing

A frequent question is how often it is possible to see the Aurora. On a clear night, it is almost always possible to catch at least a glimpse of the northern lights. It might not always be some intense colourful outbursts, but if you are lucky you will see some light dancing in the sky. That’s why I always go out at night if there’s even the slightest chance to find clear sky.

My Aurora chasing usually begins in the early afternoon, when I browse through several weather forecast websites, and exchange text messages with other Aurora chasers all around the region. With this information I make an action plan and will usually start driving around 7 PM. I have often witnessed Aurora in the very early evening, so I like to be in position as soon as it’s dark! During the polar night, this can even be much earlier, like 3 PM or 4 PM.

Once in position, the waiting game begins (unless the Aurora appeared unexpectedly much earlier while still on my way!). Clouds might disturb the view to the stars, so I check the weather forecast once more, and call my friends again to have the latest update of their location. If needed, I will drive again.

The Aurora starts dancing in the sky. I am in my element now. I know how it moves, I anticipate its movements, I can be ready to take the best possible pictures. Sometimes it surprises me, actually quite often, and this is why I never get bored. I always return, and participate in the dance. You might even hear me scream “wow” or something in French. I take photos of my happy guests under the Aurora. I can never decide when to start driving back, because I know that another outburst can always happen. But I know that the Aurora will be there again tomorrow, and we finally drive back to the hotel, with beautiful images in our memory cards, and amazing memories in our minds.

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Inari-Saariselkä – Far in the North

What´s the best part about owning huskies? All the mushing fun you can have with them of course! And this is exactly what we do almost every day.

My huskies are pure breed Siberian huskies, a well known sleddog breed that originated from an old tribe in Siberia. They have a very beautiful appearance and they love to pull!

We live in the perfect spot in Luosto. We can start our sledding adventures from our backyard, from where we can reach lot of trails.

Sadly I don’t have enough huskies (in my opinion), so usually my friends huskies come along with me when mushing. Or we make two teams and have a fun time together exploring the trails with our huskies.

During the drive I just enjoy the amazing view that the backcountry of Luosto has to offer, look at how the dogs are working and all of us love every minute of it!

One of my dogs is not of age to run the whole trail yet, which means that I sometimes need to get creative. When it’s unsafe for him to run, he comes to sit in the sledge (which goes with a lot of protest sometimes). Otherwise he is just running freely along with the team. When sitting in the sledge he can still learn and see what it’s like to be a sled dog.

Everyday on the trail we learn something new and see the nature in different circumstances. Sometimes we get sunshine, sometimes heavy snow and a lot of days freezing cold. But never will we complain. We just enjoy our time together when we are doing what we are born to do!

And besides working we just have a lot of fun together exploring the rest of the world! We are lucky to live in the most beautiful part of it.