From trying to
control a pack of over-excited huskies in the wilderness to doing handbrake
turns on ice in a rally car, Finnish Lapland is an adventure sports hotspot.
However, what makes these arctic activities unique is they were born out of the
indigenous Sámi peoples’ need to live within the limitations of an incredibly
harsh winter environment.
One of the northern
region’s most popular adventures is a multi-day expedition where visitors run a team of snow dogs, organised by the tour
operator Kamisak. Sleds have been used as transport in the Arctic region for
thousands of years and old sleds and leather reins have even
been found in bogs, estimated to be more than 3,000 years old.
From the village
of Ivalo (and with the help of a guide), visitors drive their own team of dogs through
pristine, snow-covered fells, covering between 30km and 50km a day, sleeping in
remote wilderness huts each night and experiencing the isolation and beauty of
Lapland in a section of forest just 50km from the Russian border.
A milder, but
quirkier thrill is reindeer
sledding in Saariselkä, a ski village about
30km south of Ivalo. Since reindeer need to be fed less
meat than dogs, locals used the antlered animals to pull their skis and
sleds from the 14th Century onward. Today, sleds of visitors are
pulled through birch forest in the same way that goods were transported from
the summer to winter feeding grounds of the semi-nomadic Sami people. Sled
rides vary from two to four hours.
The region’s only
challenger to the dominance of dogs and reindeer was the Finnhorse -- a stout,
versatile and reliable chestnut coloured horse that was originally bred for
farm and agricultural work. In another Ivalo-based tour run by Kamisak, thrill-seeking
guests can gallop the
sure-footed Finnhorse through the icy forest for two hours.
of motorised vehicles changed life in the Arctic region of Finnish Lapland. The
region’s first road -- which stretched from the far northern village of Inari
to the town of Rovaniemi, nearly 400km to the south -- was completed in 1925,
and cars were a common sight by the 1930s. The road brought a supplies and
goods from Finland’s southern regions to the remote communities in the far
north, but it also brought new dangers; collisions with reindeer were common
and drivers faced often icy roads.
Today, the cold
weather conditions and stunning vistas are a major drawcard for a number of private
car clubs, who come from all over Europe to test both their cars and their
driving skills in Arctic conditions. For
other visitors eager to give ice driving a go, Action
Park near Saariselkä has a specially-designed ice and snow track where
thrill seekers can learn how to handle high performance rally cars (a modified
car that races both off road and on). For those not keen on doing handbreak spins – an
important skill to learn if ever driving on ice -- Action Park also has an excellent
ice go-karting track.
introduction of cars, the most useful motorised vehicle in Finnish Lapland is
the skimobile. Known commonly as the ski-doo, it first appeared on the Finnish market
in 1962 and the Sami people used them to revolutionise reindeer herding.
Today there are more
than 1,000km of skimobile tracks in northern Lapland, and it is not uncommon to
see Sami herding their reindeer with the noisy machines through the forests
around Inari, riding home along a snow bank of a highway, or using them to ferry
hotel guests to the airport shuttle in the early hours of the morning when the roads
have yet to be cleared by a snowplough.
from most village centres or arranged by hotels, guests can zip along with a guide
through the forest in a thrilling, if slightly noisy adventure, possibly
stopping for tea or coffee along the way to stay warm.
But there are also
some adventure activities in northern Finland that are just good old-fashioned
fun. Saariselkä is home to Finland’s
longest toboggan run -- a 1.2km slope that starts from the summit of
Kaunispää and offers a four-minute ride to the bottom. Punters can grab one of
the few dozen sleds often available at the bottom of the run and either drive
or take the lift to the top of the 483m-tall mountain for the slide.
And perhaps the
greatest adventure activity of them all is ice dipping. Temperatures in Finnish
Lapland can plunge below 30C in winter, but that does not deter some from
taking a frosty
dip at the Hotel Kakslauttanen in Saariselkä. After warming up in a Finnish
sauna -- a national tradition -- guests don socks for a 50m, often naked run
through the snow to a manmade hole in the ice, where they can safely use a step
ladder to dip in the icy lake waters below.