HELSINKI, Oct. 17, 2015 – If ever there was a season suited to one nationality, it would have to be winter in Finland.
Finns greet the first snowflakes of winter with eager anticipation, and Mother Nature turns an entire country into a crystalline playground filled with exhilarating activities.
No sport represents the Finnish passion for winter more than cross country skiing. Even today, the Finns’ love of their woodlands and lakes is deeply rooted in their rural heritage. Skis have evolved from a primary means of transportation to the most popular source of recreation
Outdoor-loving travelers with an appetite for exercise can do cross country hut-to-hut ski tours by trekking through pristine nature, through snow-laden forests and across frozen lakes.
Hut-to-hut tours feature rustic accommodations, sometimes with no electricity. On the other hand, you’re in Finland, which means no amount of rusticity ever goes without a sauna at every location.
While much of Finland is relatively flat, all the familiar winter activities are available with plenty of opportunities to hit the slopes for downhill or alpine skiing. Just below the Arctic Circle in Kuusamo, Mt. Ruka is one of the most popular spots in the country for traditional ski experiences.
Telemark skiing is another favorite. Perhaps the best way to describe it is that it’s like doing cross country skiing on downhill terrain. Like other forms of the sport, telemark is challenging because it demands stamina combined with rhythm, coordination and balance in order to derive maximum pleasure from skimming across soufflés of powdery white snow.
Much of the fun of Finland in winter however, is leaving traditional enterprises behind to find bold adventures unlike anywhere else in the world. It is here that Finnish creativity has no peer.
Each year in February, the Finlandia Ski Race attracts nearly 10,000 participants from around the world for a marathon on skis. Beginning at the Lahti Ski Center about two hours northeast of Helsinki, this test of speed and endurance features two major competitions. The first is a 20-mile race followed by the main event, which is 47 miles long. For some the race represents a commitment to a healthy lifestyle, but for most the ultimate goal is to simply cross the “Finnish line.”
How about reindeer skiing which is popular in Lapland? Just hook a bridle and tow-rope to your favorite reindeer and race across the tundra at breakneck speed.
Lapland is also home to annual reindeer round-ups. Just as bison were integral to the lives of native Americans in the western United States for food, shelter and clothing, so too, are reindeer for the Lapps. Round-ups allow visitors to participate in herding reindeer, often by helicopter, as the animals are separated for breeding, slaughter, being returned to their owners or released back into the wild.
Throughout the dark-shortened days of winter in Finland ice sculpture contests are a popular diversion in many small villages.
Just because temperatures are freezing and summer has long been forgotten or is too far in the future to dream about, does not mean that Finns don’t remember the range of activities that await after the snow melts.
Ever heard of snow golf? The “greens” become “whites” and the balls are orange so you can find them, but a little snow will never keep a Finnish duffer from his appointed rounds.
How about fishing? After all, the fish are still under that frozen water. Drill a hole, set up a stool, get a hot glass of cider, drop a line and you’re in business.
There is horse racing too. The trotters at Vermo run all year long.
For members of the Polar Bear Club, why not compete in a winter swim meet? A regulation pool is chiseled out of the ice and all the events are just like summer; breast stroke, butterfly, backstroke and freestyle.
Many travelers find cruising relaxing. So do the Finns. That’s why they offer ice-breaker cruises more than half of the year. The best known and most popular is aboard the Sampo, a retired government ice-breaker that takes travelers out to chop up the ice. Sampo sails out of the seaport city of Kemi. During the tour, participants are allowed to outfit themselves in brightly colored wetsuits and go for a dip in the Gulf of Bothnia.
Summer has the midnight sun, but even that cannot compete with the Aurora Borealis or Northern lights of winter. When conditions are exactly right, another phenomenon known as the “blue-moment” occurs just before sunset, when eerie shades of blue envelop the surroundings to create an alien-like atmosphere.
Try snowmobiling or dog-sledding. If no dogs are available, no matter, you can do a reindeer safari instead.
Of course there are always sledding, skating and campfire cookouts.
Whatever your interests, be they offbeat, traditional, adventure or something in between, Finland welcomes visitors to the wonders of winter. The Finns call it “snow-how” because in Finland, there’s no business like “snow” business.
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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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