The last Ice Age ended about 9000 years ago at Ylläs, and its first inhabitants arrived soon after that in the Stone Age. Stone tools 8000 years old have been found at Lake Äkäsjärvi, about 20 km north from Äkäslompolo. At Ylläsjärvi the oldest remains of human settlement were found behind ‘Eelin Kauppa’ (shop) and on the north side of the village.
In the Bronze Age around 2000-1000 BC, Sami (Laplander) deer hunters lived around Ylläs. Trapping pits have been found in sandy banks along the Äkäsjoki and Kesänkijoki rivers. Sacrificial sites, or ‘Seitas’ were part of the ancient Sami religion, and can still be discovered in the Ylläs area. At the unusual rock outcrops of Pakasaivo and Äkäsaivo various natural products were sacrificed to the “Seitas”.
Agriculture gradually started to spread further north, and had reached the nearby Tornion-Muoniojoki rivers by AD 1100. Settlement was not permanent around Ylläs, as the area’s lakes and rivers were only used for fishing.
In 1748, the first permanent all-year round dwelling was registered at Äkäslompolo, and in 1771 at Ylläsjärvi. However no structures have survived from that era, as the oldest only date from the 19th century.
As there were no roads to the villages, Äkäslompolo and Ylläsjärvi survived the Winter and Continuation Wars unscathed during the WWII era, including the 1944–45 “Lapland War” against the Germans, in which most of the housing stock elsewhere in Lapland was destroyed.
After the Second World War, life changed for the local Ylläs residents. Winter sports had started to grow in Finland during the 1930s and after the wars, fell skiers brought tourism to the village. As tourism grew, the local people gradually began to give up farming and forestry and instead provide services for their visitors. In the early years before tourist cabins were built, guests were accommodated in private homes.
The first ski lift up Ylläs fell was opened in the late 50s above the Varkaankuru ravine. However, this did not inspire a downhill skiing boom and the lift ran at a loss until its closure in 1963.
In 1968, ‘Winds of Change’ blew over the fells: first a road was built, then electricity lines, and a new ski lift was finally opened on the Äkäslompolo front slopes. More skiers meant more demand for a hotel, and so the ‘Äkäshotelli’ was built at Äkäslompolo. Ylläsjärvi got its own ski centre, called Sport Resort Ylläs, in 1981.
Connections to Ylläs improved during the 1980s, when passenger services began along the Kolari rail line in 1985, and regular flights reached Kittilä two years later. Finland was enjoying an economic boom and as a result, tourism at Ylläs grew rapidly. The 90s downturn put investments on hold, but growth had increased once more by the 2000s.
During the following decade, most of the Ylläs fells were included in the new Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park. The new scenic route over the fell between Ylläsjärvi and Äkäslompolo brought the two villages closer together, as the distance between them was reduced by a third. A hotel and gondola lift opened next to the hotel in Ylläsjärvi, while over in Äkäslompolo, ‘Jounin Kauppa’ (shop) grew to its present size. More holiday homes were quickly built, and more visitors than ever started to arrive from Britain, Russia, Germany, Switzerland and Japan, as well as Finnish guests.
Today the Ylläs skiing centre is the largest in Finland, and the Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park is the most popular in Finland. Thousands of people annually visit the area. Äkäslompolo has around 700 permanent residents, and 350 people live at Ylläsjärvi.
In recent years, summer tourism has increased in popularity alongside the winter season. Summer visitors are enchanted by the Midnight Sun, and can also go trekking, fishing and mountain biking at Ylläs. Mountain biking has been a growth sector for several years now, and last year Finnish visitors voted Ylläs the country’s No. 1 outdoor activity destination, especially for its mountain biking trails.