As a seasoned Australian cross country skier, keen to escape the hot summer, I thought I’d fly across the world to experience a Lapland winter. Arctic skiing was to be a totally new experience, and one in which I wasn’t totally prepared for. That was back in 2005, I still keep taking the long flight armed with my classic and skating cross country skis to reencounter the auroras and white majestic arctic environment which now seems like a second home. Knowing what to expect helps to quickly adapt.
While it can take a few days to adjust from coming from a warm climate, the cold air is a big part of the incredible attraction of coming to Lapland. I thought I had my skiing hydration all worked out for -25 degrees. I had a 2 litre hydration pack to take skiing. I had insulated the drinking pipe with thick rubber tubing back home. Perhaps a great training aid, but effectively carrying 2kg of ice through a frozen world became a bit pointless. Taking a hot drink in a thermos is a far better way to hydrate out on the track, plus stopping at the heated cafes for some hot berry juice and a Finnish bun is an opportunity too good to pass.
My hands are very sensitive to the cold – lobster claw type gloves with fingers paired seem to work best for me but importantly continuously throwing my hands open on each stride keeps the blood and warmth flowing. Layering wool clothing also becomes an art – too much and you’ll sweat then get cold, too little and you’ll be spending the whole day in the nearest warm hut. Over time I’ve diarised the temperature, layers I’ve worn, and the comfort level to the point I can confidently predict the right clothes for the day’s activity. (the inner Geek coming out of me) It also helps on the next trip 12 months later to not overpack clothes. Wool layers are best under your outer shell, as they allow you to fine tune the warmth. Don’t be fooled by wearing your thickest socks in your cross country boots either, a quality thinner woollen sport sock will give you more control with a better boot fitting, without sacrificing comfort. If not used to the colder conditions, experiment with your layering on a few initial short ski outings.
Understanding the snow conditions in Lapland at first seemed daunting to me. I soon learnt that if the snow is too cold, (around -20 degrees or lower), skating technique becomes inefficient as the skis refuse to glide. If the snow is too warm, particularly at or just over 0 degrees, waxing the classic skis becomes a real challenge. While the choice of classic or skating for the day is largely temperature driven, alternating ski styles has the added benefit of using different muscles and boot pressure points, helping the body cope better with a few weeks of intense cross country skiing.
Skiing in the warm Australian snow, waxless skis are very common. Lapland converted me to a new, invigorating world of classic kick wax skiing, and the exciting art of optimal waxing (which admittedly I still don’t always get right). If hiring skis, they will be already waxed for the current local conditions, but remember to take some emergency kick wax and a waxing block as a backup if you plan to classic ski too far, a bit like riding a bike with a spare tyre tube.
Route choice can be fun. After a few days using the ski trail grooming app, you’ll start to recognise a pattern where the groomers head at different times of the day, helping you to plan circuits on recently groomed surfaces. The standard of trail grooming across the park is excellent, with more than enough kilometres to give a new route each day.
With a great network of trails at Ylläs for any ability and any distance, you will quickly work out your favourite circuits. For me, it is crossing the exposed Kukastunturi on a clear windless day with the endless views within a frozen sculptured landscape. It is skiing out north of Pyhätunturi as deer cross the trail in front of me with the feeling of isolation deep in the wilderness. It is returning the high trail from the Kotamaja hut under Lainio and Kesänki before the relaxing homeward descent into the valley after an extended circuit.
As the days pass, my body quickly adapts to the progressively longer ski routes. The daylight hours are noticeably increasing, and the snow remains just superb. Feeling tired, I return to my cabin to relax in the Finnish sauna. If I’m really lucky, I might just get a display of the northern lights in the evening.
snow conditions in
Lapland at first
Davin’s tips: A few notable places to visit around Ylläs
Lake skiing along a spectacular narrow frozen gorge – Kukaslompolo, north of Äkäslompolo – flat, easy
Amazing summit views of the seven fells – Iso Totovaara (access by Totovaaran Pirti bus, ski back) – short initial climb, otherwise flat ski back.
River mill, where the river flows throughout winter. Well worth a photo stop (access by Äkäsmylly bus, ski back) – picturesque undulating trip back.
High mountain pass, Kellostapuli (steep descent) with distant views and frozen forest. Go clockwise around Ylläs, a circuit that is partially lit at night. Food stops in Ylläsjärvi, Tunturijärvi, Ylläs Ski. Some longer, gradual climbs.
Tahkokuru, above the snow line just under the summit of Kesänki to the end of the groomed trail. A fantastic place to stand under the scattered frozen trees on the edge of the tree line and a nice descent back.