SKI-BUZZ

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Fantastic Finland – my trip to see Father Christmas, Iso Syote and Ruka

Snowmobiling in FinlandJames Nye has just returned from Finland and it’s safe to say he enjoyed his time spent in the often overlooked winter paradise.

With just four days, James met Father Christmas, learnt Finnish, skied both resorts of Iso Syote and Ruka and managed to take notes and photos (some of these claims might be more true than others).

This is his guide to skiing in Finland.

Day 1 – So here we are, after an eventful journey from Heathrow, we arrive in the eternal dusk of Finland! It’s not the frozen landscape you might imagine; spring seems to be a mild 2 degrees…maybe the long johns could have stayed at home! Our first stop, Iso Syote! A remote hilltop resort with nothing more than a hotel, a bar and a souvenir shop…and that’s the way they like it! After being welcomed in by the super friendly Dutch managers, we’re shown our rooms and ushered into dinner (we’re very late but they’re kind enough to keep the kitchen open for us!)

The hotel is warm, welcoming and has everything you would need (bar, restaurant, souvenirs, internet…massage chair!) The restaurant has a fantastic panoramic view of the area (it’s a shame about mist as I look out through the windows) and a great menu with a mix of Finnish and international food (the snails and steak are top notch!). Over dessert we are introduced to our first Finnish tradition of the evening…Karaoke. It seems the Finns have embraced this Japanese “entertainment” wholeheartedly (you haven’t lived until you hear Smokie’s “Alice” in Finnish).

After dinner, they love to dance! It is commonplace in all restaurants and hotels for the gentlemen to scour the room looking for a potential partner for a waltz or two, so if you’re not in the mood, watch out – as it’s very rude (and difficult) to refuse! Bed time soon follows – the cosy rooms are appreciated after the long day and I sleep soundly with a great first impression of this often overlooked destination.

One way of staying warm - an open camp fire in Finland

Day 2 – A great breakfast prepares us for the day of action ahead. After a tour of the hotel pool & sauna, we head down to the kit-room to get suited and booted for our snow mobile safari. All the activities here include all you’ll need to keep warm, dry and safe – and we leave the hotel looking like Robocop on ice. The snow mobiles are quite simply awesome. After getting used to the controls, we’re passing 30mph with ease.

Ok, so a few of us veer headfirst into soft snow now and again and need a bit of a push to get out, but once we’re going again, we forget about it and it all adds to the fun. A well deserved rest comes along by way of a wooden cabin in the middle of nowhere, coffee is brewed and buns are warmed by a wood stove. This, we’re told, is the real Finland and I like it, I like it a lot. A caffeine fuelled return journey brings us back to the hotel a little too quick…but what a rush!

After lunch and a quick change, it’s time to check out what’s happening on the slopes. It’s a small ski area but it boasts a good variety of runs and a world class ski park. After a couple of hours of wide quiet runs, our old legs are giving way and we take advantage of the bar at the bottom (“Sauna-bar”) to get an ice cold beer, but there’s no rest for the wicked…and it’s on to Ruka!

It hits you instantly. This resort is totally different. Ruka’s ‘resort like’ centre is a huge contrast to Iso Syote’s tranquil wilderness escape. We are shown to our Ruka suite, and are very impressed. A large, modern apartment…hang on…that’s a …there’s… A SAUNA IN MY ROOM!!! (But more on that later).

We eat that night at the Rukahovi Hotel and we are told that the main course this evening would be Reindeer. I’m excited, others…not so much, some order the fish (but if you have the chance to try smoked Reindeer, go for it; it’s quite incredible). In the dining hall, there’s a live band and, you’ve guessed it, more dancing.
For the second night in a row, I am not asked to dance.

After dinner, we take a walk to one of the most popular bars in resort (it’s a karaoke bar of course – but not tonight, darn it). The Finnish taste in music is quite eclectic. Going from industrial metal to Rhianna is quite a sight on the dance floor – I encourage you all to witness it.

photo of the husky dogs at work

Day 3 – There’s nothing quite like coffee and some skiing to nurse a sore ‘self-inflicted’ head, and this morning, I’m in luck. Ruka has some great runs, and they’re well looked after (thank you to our host Petra for showing us around). There’s also a fun adventure-run through the forest (with sounds, puzzles, little jumps) perfect for kids…like me – I loved it!
We had lunch at Twin peak bar (they do wicked pasta and matched it with a great wine) and we needed to recharge our batteries as the afternoon was our trip to the husky farm.

When we arrived, we were welcomed by the howls and growls of 205 Alaskan Huskies. They’re beautiful and are a lot friendlier than you’d imagine (the staff are happy for you to pet them). Unfortunately, the eccentric owner “Wolf” was out but we were told that he is quite a character. The people were great, they knew their stuff and you could tell they loved the dogs (they knew all of their names!) A quick safety demo and we ready to be led by a team of 6 huskies – daunted is an understatement! You sleigh with a partner who lies down in front – and once the dogs go – they go!! So much so that one of the party let their hands slip, fell and her partner was dragged a fair distance without a driver (I tried really hard, yet failed, not to laugh).

Getting back to the apartment, our private sauna was priority number one! Wasn’t the experience I was hoping for though. Now most people have a cold shower to cool down after, but me and my room mate thought fresh air on the balcony would be a better idea. Note of caution – if you’re in a towel, on a balcony, in a ski resort, in Lapland….prop the door open. We were out there for 20 minutes and I am still shivering! That evening, after warming back up, we had another great meal and  forced ourselves through the fatigue to have few drinks and a few dances in Piste bar (the dj thankfully had more reserved tastes tonight)

Day 4 – Well it’s time for us to leave this place, but hold on a minute…we’ve got a few hours before our flight, just enough to see Santa at his Summer home!

Traditional family visit to Finland with father Christmas

We arrive at a group of farm houses, as various elves pop their heads up and start waving. We enter the cabin, and there he is! All red, white and beard. He welcomes us in and talks about his life and work whilst Mrs Christmas silently sits beside knitting gloves. It’s a surreal yet enjoyable moment. We’re fed, watered and entertained until it’s our time to get our gift and sit on the big man’s knee (he’s pretty strong as you’d expect). We are then treated to the experience of singing the traditional Lapland Christmas song. I look around…we are a group of adult professionals in Santa hats singing in Finnish to young elves…and we’re loving it.

A hug and a wave and it’s time to grab our flight; it’s a great shame to be leaving!

Thank you Finland, you are eccentric, original and fantastic. I’m looking forward to seeing you again!

Written by James Nye.

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