On adventure in Finnish Lapland:

White Wonderland

Text: Yvonne Dudock | Photografy: Rene Koster

Traverse vast lakes per husky sledge or snowmobile, have lunch around the campfire and enjoy the immense silence; the untouched Arctic nature of Finnish Lapland offers plenty of adventure.

In the middle of the frozen lake, we stop our snowmobiles. Everything around me is white. The sun is shining, and the tiny snow crystals glisten in the light. A few meters above the ground, mist floats like elegant garlands in the air. Even the sky is not entirely blue; the moisture in the air freezes at this temperature and swirls down like small silver white crystals. Never have I seen so many different degrees of white. Only in the distance, through the shimmering of the mist, I see the edge of the forest.

It is mid-February and plenty of winter in Finnish Lapland. We flew in at Kittilä Airport yesterday. I am close to Saariselkä, a small village about three hundred kilometres above the Arctic Circle. There is no comparison with the well-known ski resorts in France or Austria; this is an entirely different world. Not in the first place because of the lack of crowds, but especially because of the beautiful Arctic nature, the silence and the many winter sports activities.

The Arctic nature is of a different world

Here you can enjoy cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing, but you can also go here for adventurous snowmobile trips and husky safaris. This morning I left Saariselkä for a snowmobile trip through nature.

The warm layered clothing is not a luxury, outside it is about twenty-five degrees below zero. 

My guide, Juha, provided me with a helmet, warm gloves, wool socks, boots and a thick ski overall. The warm layered clothing is not a luxury, outside it is about twenty-five degrees below zero. 

After a short explanation about driving a snowmobile, we set out. Soon, the civilised world lies well behind us. The road runs through rolling hills and endless forests. The trees find themselves covered with a thick layer of fresh snow; their branches bed far under the heavy load. I feel like driving through a fairytale winter wonderland, a feeling complete when suddenly a village emerges out of nowhere. The typical red wooden houses stand out against the snow. I only count nine homes; then we are out in the wild again.

Suddenly we see two reindeer staring at us from between the trees

Not much later the landscape changes and the forest is interspersed with smaller and larger open plains. Juha tells me that these are frozen and snow-covered swamps and lakes; the thousands of lakes for which Finland is known. Suddenly Juha stops and points in the distance: reindeer staring at us from between the trees. Just like that, in the wild. The animals look at us sheepishly and then continue searching for food. "There is little food for the reindeer," says Juha, "But they have grown a thick layer of fat, sometimes thicker than five centimetres. They can live off it all winter."

"Let's have lunch", says Juha. A restaurant in the middle of nowhere? All of a sudden I smell fire. A plume of smoke creeps up along the edge of the forest. Kari, a colleague of Juha, has created a snow restaurant here: in a big pit chairs are carved out of the snow and covered with reindeer skin. In the middle, a fire crackles.

In the middle, a cosy fire crackles and hums.

Not much later I sit with a cup of tea in my hand in the sun. From my chair, I look out over the frozen lake, which hides under a thick layer of snow. The typical pine trees, long and narrow, mark the edge of the forest. Candle trees, the Finns call them. I completely understand why. They stand next to each other like white candles, one even higher and more stately than the other.

Meanwhile, Kari is busy preparing lunch. On the fire is a large pan in which pieces of reindeer meat is roasted; delicious food fumes reach my nose. The healthy outside air has made me hungry, I notice.

The next place I visit is Levi. It is about 2 hours drive to the southwest and the most important ski resort of Finnish Lapland. But today I'm not going to ski; I'm going on a husky safari. Bartek, owner and breeder of huskies, welcomes me to his kennel. The dogs are waiting outside in the snow, some of them comfortably rolled up. The cold means little to them; their fur is thick and warm. When they see Bartek, they look at him happily with their bright blue or brown eyes. 

As soon as he picks up a sledge and sets it up, the dogs become restless. They know what will happen: there will be work. And if a husky can work - run - then he is in his element. They are born to run.

A few dogs stand up and start barking, others cry like wolve

Bartek carefully chooses the dogs for the sledge. The first two are the most experienced dogs, the leaders of the pack, he says. They are trained not to go after a rabbit, bird or other game during the trip. The ranking for the sled also indicates the experience; the two rear dogs are the least experienced, they are still learning.

As Bartek walks past the dogs to select them, a few dogs stand up and start barking, others cry like wolves, and others remain stoic. But they all look at Bartek insistently, as if to say: choose me, choose me!

I stand on the back of my sledge, with a foot on the brake so that it goes deep into the snow. I feel the dogs already pulling; they want to run. If Bartek gives the sign that we are going and I take my feet off the brake, the sledge will advance. We glide over the snow at a steady pace. In front of me, I see six dog tails, twelve ears and twenty-four legs moving in cadence. Their tongues dangle from the mouth. Again the landscape is a fairytale; on the one hand, trees that are covered with snow, on the other side an open plain with mountains in the background. The winter sun is low and colours the landscape in pastel shades from soft yellow to orange and violet. Unbelievably beautiful, I stare in amazement. The only sounds I hear are the sledge sliding over the fresh snow and the gentle breathing of the dogs.

In front of me, I see six dog tails and twelve ears.

When we have a chat after the trip, Bartek talks passionately about his dogs, how he takes care of them and trains them. When I ask him if he also competes with his dogs, his eyes start to shine. Last year he participated in a race from Saint Petersburg to Moscow. And one of his dogs has covered a total of about 42,000 km. The animal has been retired for a long time, but still wants to run more.

That night I make a night trip with the snowmobile, looking for the Northern Lights. Petri is my guide again. He shakes his head before we leave. Tonight we will not see a northern light; it is too cloudy.

Nevertheless, we set off, because a nightly trip with the snowmobile is an experience in itself. We're going up, up the hills. The light beam of the headlight glides over the white landscape, dark shadows and white snow sculptures alternate; trees and shrubs fully covered by the snow, carved by wind and weather. The higher we come, the more extreme the forms and also the colder it gets.

The light beam of the headlight glides over the white landscape

After a short ride, we stop at a little hut. In no time Petri has a fire going. While I enjoy a cup of coffee and the warmth of the fire, I reflect on my journey. It has been an unforgettable experience: the untouched nature, the bizarre snow landscapes, the Huskies and snowmobile trips. And guess what? The northern lights choose to visit us the next evening. Disco skies in Lapland, a definate must-see.

Would you like to discover Lapland on a dog sledge or snowmobile? This winter, TUI is the only airline flying directly from Amsterdam to several cities in Lapland. 

A week-long trip with hotel or apartment and breakfast included, return flights and transfers start at € 655,- per person. Curious?