I am one spoilt guy when it comes to my birthday and 2016 was no exception. A friend accidently broke the surprise of a ski trip but the location remained secret until a few weeks prior. We were off to Lapland, an area that covers northern Finland and Sweden and includes the Arctic Circle. To take the hassle out of working out everything, we enlisted the online services of Crystal Ski (CS). This was our experience.
The website makes it easy to pick a ski destination based on ski experience and type of getaway you’re looking for, accommodation preference, ski school instruction, equipment hire and lift pass. The flights and transfers were fully inclusive of the price. Our only out-of-pocket expense would turn out to be extra activities, food and ski clothing, though this was available for hire also. On the first evening, CS welcomed and explained all the directions and access details for the week ahead. There were many activities that you could go on such as snow shoeing, husky sledding, ice karting, snowmobiling and The Northern Lights’ tours.
It became evident when we arrived at Gatwick airport that CS partners with Thomson Airways to fly everyone on their packaged deal to the ski destination. We were destined for Rukatunturi (Ruka for short) via Kuusamo Airport; a four hour journey. As we descended, the whole region had a white blanket draped as far as the eye could see with only forest green tree tops peeking out. ‘This would bring England to a standstill,’ the passenger next to me remarked. No skidding on the tarmac, we landed safely and there was much excitement stepping out and snow all around us. Excitement for us Aussies anyhow!
On arrival there were helpful CS representatives dividing us onto transfer buses dependent on our accommodation request. This part was a surprise for me as there were a number of accommodation options. Many opted to stay in Ruka central at the catered motels and nearby to cafes and bars. To my amazement, my fiancé had gone all out and booked a Finnish log cabin beside a lake (albeit frozen) away from the hustle and bustle. We even had to dig a path to our door!
Initially one could think that it was a pretty crazy decision to be away from the centre without a car, however we had an absolutely wonderful week in our log cabin which also came with a sauna! It was a novel time as we found alternative snow activities (of course it meant building a snow-it (gender unknown), throwing and eating snowballs, and jumping off verges and landing 4 foot deep. What seemed like a harmless sledding hill actually turned out to be a main road linking the villages. Thankfully the locals didn’t bat an eyelid – we were big kids after all! A supermarket was located within about 1mile and we stocked up on local meats, fish and cinnamon rolls. Our log cabin was cosy and could accommodate a large family with its loft bedroom. It was an all wooden interior with cooking facilities including a wrought iron and brick fireplace. The only noise was an intermittent buzz of snow mobiles zooming across the lake. The address was Mikonrantra 7. D2.
We were enrolled into the beginner class for four days with a young instructor with enthusiasm to push us further in our learning. There was always praise and positive feedback to better ourselves. There were hourly buses that linked the villages and the ski parks, so accessing the slopes was dead easy. The first few days we spent mastering the beginner’s slope whilst an excavator sculpted a massive snowman in the background. The slopes weren’t busy so we had time to master the ski lifts and move onto the longer slopes to practice sliding turns. The only time we both fell was when I spotted the Reindeer Kids Park which also included a slalom jumps section and the frequent mounds that sent us both tumbling over. Sarah often said she would follow me down the slopes only to soon after be zooming past me at great speed. Overall this experience was exhilarating and we are confident to go skiing again.
The lead up to this holiday had the temperature dropping to about -30 degrees Celsius, however thankfully it ranged from -5 to -17 when we arrived. The first day I wore everything I brought and I was bulky, hot and uncomfortable. The following day I reduced the layers and it was great. The ski rental also had the opportunity to hire clothes which in hindsight may have been worth it versus the cost of buying it ourselves. There is a tepee hut half way up the mountain with a fireplace where we took comfort every few hours to warm up and cook a sausage. Awesome!
If you wanted to explore you really needed a car or alternatively CS had activities arranged. They appear expensive but really they match the country’s economy I’d say and take the fuss out of planning it yourself. We opted for the 20km husky sledding experience and chose to find our own way there. We showed the bus no.3 driver the address and he got us there without a worry. Walking up to Era Susi, we could hear the dogs yapping. A man appeared with leather rugged clothing and an oversized woollen beanie. A quick demonstration of how to handle the sled and dogs was given before we were off around the Finnish countryside. The take-off was swift but the overall speed was steady and at times I had to get off and help the dogs run up the hills. Sarah got to hang out in the sled under a blanket.
Dogs are selected as puppies for either Speed, Strength or as Leaders. The 20km trek was long and cold, especially for the person sitting down; however we were well rewarded with Finnish sausages, cinnamon buns, hot drinks and a fire to warm our feet. The best part evidenced by Sarah’s smiles was the opportunity to cuddle the puppies Nipa and Nika and meeting the 200 other working dogs. There were even sneaky ones that manage to stand proudly on top of their cages! Era-Susi’s farm also housed Finnish horses and reindeer.
We didn’t take part in The Northern Light’s tour as it had only been cited 3 times that season and the region remained quite cloudy. Sarah did however go walking in a dress and sneakers onto the frozen lake and a hue on the darkened horizon was visible, but not quite the same green flittering we saw on our later trip to Iceland to see them (for which only remains in our memories).
As newbies to Europe and without any experience of the snow, signing up to a Ski Package with CrystalSki was the best decision Sarah could have made. We also went to a pretty cool ski village that had a number of bars and cafes to relax in afterwards. It’s not as big as other ski villiages but the quiet slopes made up for this as we could slide back and forth without a worry. We are an independent couple who like to find alternative ways to access activities and avoiding the middle-man, but from all accounts the CS activities were of good value for those keen to have it hassle free.