We recently compared France and Austria, arguably Europe’s most formidable snowsport forces, in an attempt to establish where Europe’s best skiing is to be had. But in truth the question goes beyond those two nations – veritable paragons of pow though they are. Skiing was not always the fast-paced après-guzzling extreme sport it is today: in simpler times of wooden planks and drinking horns, it was a means of transport across – you guessed it – the Scandinavian countryside. With that in mind, let’s have a look at Norway – the home of skiing – and Finland – the home of Santa – and see who takes the crown (horned helmet? …reindeer hat?) as Northern Europe’s best and brightest.
We use a single airport to reach all three of our Norwegian resorts – Fagernes, roughly three hours North of Oslo. Transfers times are perfectly palatable: the longest is to Geilo, taking two hours, and the shortest is to Beitostølen, which takes a mere 45 minutes. In the scheme of things, neither of these are too bad.
As far as Finland is concerned however… well it’s much the same story. Three of our Finnish resorts operate out of Kuusamo airport, and two from Kittila. The longest transfer time is an hour and a half, with the shortest – to Ruka – taking just 25 minutes. I’ve literally spent longer than that looking for my shoes before.
While you might be hard pressed to drive to Northern Europe, flight times are more or less the same as to France or Austria, and all that reduced transfer time boils down to one thing: more time on the slopes.
One category in and the Vikings are already one-up on the rest.
Après / Nightlife
If you haven’t heard of Beitostølen’s legendary après bar Valhalla, that’s because it doesn’t exist. Norway simply doesn’t have the savage drinking culture present in other parts of Europe. If you are having serious Jäger cravings though, don’t despair: Hemsedal is the après capital of Norway, and while it’s certainly no Val d’Isère, we think it’ll be lively enough to keep you occupied.
Finland is much the same story – while you’ll certainly be satisfied for excellent bars and restaurants, you might find table dancing gets a slightly different reception here than in St. Anton.
All this however doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do in the evenings: Scandinavia is more than capable of providing a smorgasbord of activities. Take part in even a fraction of the off-piste action available in either country – snowmobiling, dog-sledding, night skiing, reindeer safaris – and we promise, all you’ll want to do when you get home is loosen up in the sauna and get an early night.
Finnish food typically combines traditional country fare with more contemporary continental food, so it’s likely to be more or less what you get across the rest of Europe.
It’s worth bearing in mind that you’re going to be at a ski resort, so you can probably stick to pizza, chicken and chips if you want to. We heartily recommend trying every possible local speciality you can get your hands on though; traditional Scandinavian food is far tastier than you might think.
Resorts across Scandinavia have plenty of similarities, from accommodation types to off-piste activity, but there’s still lots to set them apart. First, the similarities:
Norwegian and Finnish resorts are, frankly, beautiful. Bathed in feet of snow throughout the season (with temperatures falling as low as -30oC in mid-winter), the landscapes are full of snow-laden trees and frozen lakes – thoroughly romantic. On top of the stunning scenery, resorts across Norway and Finland are very quiet, especially during the week.
Scandinavian culture is more than familiar with snow, arctic conditions, and skiing. Not only their ski resorts but their towns, cities and lives are designed for maximum comfort in harsh conditions. With that in mind you can be prepared for some seriously cushy accommodation – traditional log cabins might look frighteningly exposed from the outside, but inside they’re as cosy as you could wish for, and many have their own private saunas.
Salla, Levi and Ylläs on the other hand are North of the Arctic Circle, so while they’re a tad chilly, they place pretty high in the ‘Chances to see the Northern Lights’ rankings. What’s more, all the activities are run and led by locals, making it a fantastic opportunity to experience authentic, native Sami culture.
For smaller resorts, our Scandinavian destinations are home to plenty of options when it comes to accommodation. The general spread across Finland is a combo of the aforementioned log cabins, perfect for families after their own space, and larger hotels with plenty of Scandinavian charm. Norway’s resorts are marginally larger, and offer both hotels and cabins, with a sprinkling of chalets and apartments thrown in, offering a mid-point for those wanting both privacy, self-catering and affordability.
Norway and Finland average out at about the same price for a week; there’s really not much in it. Compare them to the rest of Europe though and you might find yourself saving a bit alongside bigger, more well-known resorts.
Reasonably priced accommodation and lift-passes might take a bit of a knock in Norway if you’re a party animal – a pint of beer is notoriously expensive with the country average sitting at around €8, while Finland sits at a more reasonable €4.80.
If you’re a clean-cut straight-edge tee-total family though, you might spare yourself more than a few bob.
Pro-tip: buy your booze from the supermarket instead of drinking in bars to cut costs.
Norway and Finland are both winter wonderlands, but they do each have their strengths and weaknesses. Norway typically has significantly larger ski areas, and world-renowned ski schools and quiet slopes make it perfect for families looking for leisurely lessons with English-speaking instructors. Finland on the other hand is likely to be a tad cheaper, and the spread of off-piste activities available is out of this world. Plus, Santa.