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Not many human beings have the idea to went in their winter holidays to the North ... but in my opinion, everyone should do this at least one time in his life. The cold and lifeless winter landscape, the mystic light of the dawn and the spectacular northern lights (aurora borealis) will fascinate everyone. At this webpage I will give every winter traveller to the North some tips for his holidays in Europe's deep freezer.
Lapland (or Sápmi) is called the land, where the people of the Saami (Sámi) live. The area of Lapland is about 350.000 km² and ranges from Russia (peninsula of Kola) to Northern Finland, Norway and Sweden. There are approximately 80.000 Saami living in this area: 50.000 in Norway, 20.000 in Sweden, 10.000 in Finland and only 2000 in Russia. The Saami have their own language which is related to Finnish. Inside the Saami language there are many regional dialects and with this dialects you can separate the different ethnic groups of the Saami people (see map below).
Lapland has a continental climate with quiet hot summers and very cold winters. Long sunshine periods occur not very seldom - also in winter. The Norwegian coastal ranges trap the rainfall from the Atlantic Ocean and so you have often foehn effects in the lee of the Scandinavian mountain range. But this means not that it is all the time sunny - if you have bad luck, you can have a depression sitting over Scandinavia and you can enjoy one week of rainfall or snow.
The coastal regions of Norway don't have such high temperature differences as the inland of Finland or Sweden. In winter the temperatures are mostly around 0°C and in summer the temperatures don't rise very often over 20°C. There is also a lot more precipitation at the coast than in the inland.
The best way coming to northern Finland in winter is by plane to Helsinki and than by train or a domestic flight to Lapland. The cheapest airlines from Central Europe to Finland are the Hungarian MALEV and Czech Air (CSA).
From Helsinki to Rovaniemi, at the polar circle, you can take the night train, there are also good bus connections from the Finnish capital to Ivalo, Sodankylä and Rovaniemi. For students (below 26 years) it is also possible to buy a stand by ticket for Finnair domestic flights. You can buy these tickets 2 hours before the start of the plane at a Finnair check in counter. After that you have to go to the gate, where you have to wait if there is a free place in the plane. For detailed information ask you next Finnair office (www.finnair.com).
The Finnish Tourist Office was always very helpful when I had questions concerning transportation in Finland (http://www.finland-tourism.com/).
Every vacation in Scandinavia is expensive. The transportation to Lapland (flight with CSA, EUR 250) and renting a car (EUR 580 for 4 days - without expensive fuel) are always the most expensive parts (or otherwise you go by your car to Lapland). For the accommodation in small hotels or hytter (little huts at camping places) you have to pay around EUR 20 per night and men. Restaurants have quiet normal prices in Finland. For a pizza or a lunch menu you have to pay normally between 6 and 10 Euro, but in Norway you have to expect 30% higher prices than in Finland. So it's always a good idea to bring your food with you to Norway and to rent a hytter, where you are allowed to cook.
Other expenses are bus transfers, entrance fees and renting skis, if you don't bring your own skis with you.
All in all, I paid for this ten days vacation in Finland and Norway around 700 Euro.
Not only in summer, also in winter camping places rent little huts (hytter) for quiet cheap prices. In this huts you will find always a cooking site which is especially fine, when you try to avoid expensive restaurant visits.
You can find cheap hotel rooms for 20 Euro (per person) and the good thing about sleeping in a Hotel is, that you have a breakfast included.
In larger cities you will find also youth hostels, but they are often not cheaper than a hotel and don't offer the same comfort and they often have no breakfast included in the room price.
Finland is the land of the Sauna and Sauna is the only Finnish word, which is used in the whole world.
In many hotels the sauna is included in the room price. For example at the youth hostel at the Kiilopää Fjell Centre was a own sauna at the washing rooms.
If you have the possibility to go to a birch wood sauna , don't miss it. The sauna oven will be heated with birch wood and after that the room will be ventilated in order to release the smoke. After that you can use the sauna and you will have an agreeable smell of birch wood in the room.
In Finland sauna is much more than a oven for humans. In the sauna you will meet old and young often in discussion about politics and social topics or just about skis - in the meantime they don't forget to put water on the oven in order to get higher temperatures. A normal human being which is not used to the temperatures in a Finnish sauna, have to flee latest after 10 minutes into the next ice hole in the nearby lake.
When you step out of you car the first time and you fall down because it is so icy, you will know why every tire in Lapland has spikes. If you try to drive with normal winter tires in Lapland you will find yourself very soon everywhere but not on the road. On our four day journey by car in February, we didn't see a single patch of concrete ... only ice and snow.
You have to beware of many dangers on the winterly roads of Lapland. One danger is traffic from the other direction, especially trucks. The raised fluffy snow behind the trucks can obscure your sight for many seconds. Another danger is the distance you need to stop the car in an emergency. The spikes often mislead someone to drive fast. I would suggest that you make a "emergency brake test" with your car, in order to see how many hundred meters you will need to stop the car if reindeers crossing the road.
Convoy traffic (kolonnekjöring): Convoy traffic is an especialness of driving in the wintry Norway. At bad weather conditions (snowfall, storms, snow drifts, avalanches,...) the Norwegian road maintenance close some road sections. This road sections are only passable at fixed times, in guidance of a snow plough. The time tables are posted directly at the boom or you can download them from the internet (see links and recommendations).
What kind of skis should I take for my skiing tour in Finland?
Alpine touring skis:
Alpine touring skis are concepted for steep mountains and that's the last thing you will find in Finland. Touring skis are heavy, have very stiff boots which are not very good on long flat passages and the skins have too much friction for the flat Finnish terrain. The only advantage of touring skis is the good stability on downhill runs (e.g. down from fjells).
Cross country skis:
These skis are good for groomed trails but in the backcountry you would sink with this thin and light skis until you knees into the fluffy snow.
Telemark skis are absolutely made for skiing tours in Finland. You only have to prepare you skis. If you have alpine telemark skis you have to put the proper wax onto you skis in order to have some friction. The other possibility would be to take skins, but at -20°C the glue on the skins is not very effective. So bring some extra glue with you and store it in your jacket pocket. Be careful that no ice crystals fall on the side of the skins with the glue!
Finnish hunting skis:
These skis are ideal for skiing tours in Finland. They are light, wide and long and because of this characteristic they are ideal for the snow in the backcountry. The shoes are gumboots with felt inside and you are sticking in a telemark binding. These shoes don't give you any support on downhill runs, but for most of the Finnish mountains these shoes are good enough. The skis are usually waxed or some skis are also "no-wax-skis".
Snow shoes are not very good for longer winter tours. You would need much to much power and you are never so quick as with skis. I think it is better to take one of the above described skis than snow shoes ... and don't afraid if your are not a good skier - skiing in Finland is easy!
A Akja (sledge)
can preserve you to carry a 25kg back bag and we saw many people in Finland going on
their backcountry tour with a Akja. The only problem with a Akja is
on steep slopes, so that alpine touring skis are maybe the best skis if you
want to pull a Akja. Alpine touring skis are stable on downhill runs and the
skins give you enough friction for going up on steep Fjells.
Rating of the different ski types:
... very good
... good -
... not so good
... not good
This should be not a complete checklist, because I think you will know, that you will need some socks and underwear. This is a list with the most important things, you will need for a specific tour into the backcountry in winter.
Equipment and food
If you have no experience with winter tours in the backcountry, ask in your next outdoor shop for further advices and tips.
Information about Lapland and Finland:
Places of interest and towns:
Accommodation and National Parks: