Finland: Winter Funland
As snow finally reaches most of the United Kingdom and reminds us it is winter my thoughts turned to winter travel. I have already posted about some moments of Finnish Madness on this blog so I thought I would write about some slightly less crazy winter activities, other than skiing, which I experienced in Finland.
Snowshoeing, walking and outdoor dining
After a hearty Nordic breakfast we set off in a 4×4 to “somewhere near the Russian border”. It sounded like a line from a spy thriller set in the Cold War. The Cold War is over; now it is just cold.
Imagine your feet being strapped to Andy Murray’s tennis rackets with the shaft sawn off and then trying to walk. That’s the kind of gait you have as you walk with snowshoes on. They do however make it very easy to walk on soft snow rather than through it.
Our walk took us through the forest and on to a wooden walkway, just two planks wide, that stretched forever across peat bogs within about two hundred metres of the the Finnish-Russian border. These were apparently used by Finnish border patrols but are now used by hikers in both summer and winter
We stopped beside a lake where, if we had the time, we could have done some ice-fishing. No worries though my guide had packed a plentiful supply of food to cook over an open fire. This might be the Finnish wilderness but there was a small shelter, presumably for fishermen and hunters, with a supply of dry wood. Using the minimum needed to get the fire going we chopped up deadwood lying around and soon had a decent fire going and ate well.
Being December the days are at their shortest and by 2:00 in the afternoon the sun was beginning to set. After we had eaten we set off back to the 4×4 and headed back to the hotel.
For those who want an adrenalin rush this is a great activity. Even for those less inclined to speed it is fantastic way to see the Finnish wilderness. We used the forest tracks being careful not to stray too near the trees as the snow off track can be soft and bog down a snowmobile.
The real fun came as we headed out on the frozen lakes. The snow had formed mini drifts that had compacted. The snowmobile at speed became airborne and thudded onto the ice. I fully expected cracks to appear and to be having a freezing dunking. With the ice more than 1.2m thick there was no way it would break… apparently. I recalled that on Ice Road Truckers they were taking huge great trucks across ice only a metre thick so was content to rev the motor and head out across the lakes again.
This was much more the stuff of 007 “somewhere on the Russian border”. You can take organised trips into Russia but will need visas so it cannot be done on the spur of the moment. We did not have time to get the necessary visa so remained firmly in Finland.
A much more environmentally friendly option and no less exciting is to take a team of dogs into the wilderness. I took a little longer to master the art of riding a sledge and mushing a team of dogs but did eventually get the hang of it. It involved learning a bit of Finnish – the dogs didn’t speak English – and how to steer and use the brake. I soon learned the brake was extremely important as once you let the dogs out they do not stop or slow down unless the brake is applied.
It is a much quieter approach and there is a good chance of seeing wildlife as the only sounds are the panting of the dogs and the swish of the sledge’s runners on the snow. We stopped somewhere out in the forest and brewed up, ate chocolate and enjoyed the blue hour. This is the time just before sunset when on a clear day the air seems to take on an electric blue colour. There was no need to worry about the dark as the dogs knew their way home so as the sky darkened we set off under a near full moon back to the husky farm.
There’s a great deal more fun to be had in Finland’s winter landscape including reindeer sledging, ice fishing, nordic skiing and alpine skiing. If you have had any adventures during the Finnish winter tell us about them in the comments below.
All these activities were organised as part of a trip where I stayed as a guest of the Kalevela Hotel, Kuhmo from where the above activities were organised. These activities and a stay at the Kalevela Hotel can also be organised through Wild Taiga. For more on visiting Finland check out the Visit Finland website
I always maintain editorial control and write what I experience be it good or not so good.