“Why Finland?” is a question we have been asked a lot. “Do you have family there?” is the popular follow-up question. No we don’t – we just thought it would be different. We’ve been to the Alps before on several occasions. And it is beautiful. But why not try something new?! So to Finland we went! 🙂
Ruka (pronounced Roo-ka) is a small ski village ; the largest in Finland. There are several restaurants, a few bars and a mini supermarket. We discovered Koti Pizza which does a good pizza and offers take away 🙂 We also had amazing fajitas and my BF had what he described as the “best ribs ever” – so there is a good array of food to be had!
But perhaps the most authentic eating experience is to buy some sausages from the supermarket and cook them on over-sized skewers over the many open-air log fires that burn around the ski mountain. These are normally already lit, ready for you to warm up, however typically, on the night we arrived armed with sausages, the fire was out. We went to the shop and bought a lighter and then proceded to spend the next 30 minutes trying in vein to light the fire. We lost faith in the principles physics as we held paper in the flame and it did not catch fire. Possibly as it was minus 12 degrees C with an icy wind? It was pretty disheartening as we were frozen and even when we managed to get a little flame to catch on the wood, it promptly blew out! Sob! Luckily the kind ski patrol snowmobile rocked up and gave us a crash course in how to build and light a fire. Apparently matches are better than lighters! After that we enjoyed a rather surreal BBQ in the snow!
There were several excellent ice sculptures in Ruka, of a horse, some christmas trees, a giant snowman, and a castle. It was for the kids really, but we loved them!
One day we got the ski bus a few stops out of the village and walked through the beautiful residential areas just to see what real life is like in Finland. The locals seem to cross-country-ski everywhere and their houses were in a sort of Narnia. We walked along the cross-country ski tracks and across a frozen lake, which was exciting but also a bit scary! I wouldn’t have walked across a frozen lake if it weren’t for the fact that it was marked on the trail map as a cross-country ski path, and there were tracks in the snow where other people had gone across.
Skiing and Snowboarding
The land around Ruka is very flat, with lots of lakes which freeze in the winter and add to the network of walking or snowmobiling tracks. However there is one hill (or, “fell”) near Ruka. The steep side has red and black runs leading down to Ruka. The gentle side with all the baby slopes is on the other side of the fell, and you need to get the ski bus there (Free; about 15 minutes).
For beginners, this was a lovely place to learn. The snow was powdery and soft so great to land on. The ski school had adult classes and it felt more down-to-earth than the Alps, which I find intimidating as everyone is a Pro skier and has been skiing since they were 1 year old. For advanced skiers / snowboarders, the fell isn’t extensive. My BF, an advanced snowboarder, said he could cover most of the runs in a few hours. But there was enough variety to keep him interested. And we spent a long lunch in the ski lodge watching people ski past through the big windows.
Our preconceptions were that it would be very very cold with lots of snow. This isn’t merely a stereotype, but a reality. It can be as cold as -40 degrees centigrade in the winter. And if you are going to go somewhere like the Arctic Circle, there is no point spending the holiday miserable because you’re cold. In Finland apparently they have a saying “there’s no such thing as cold weather, just poor clothing” or something like that. So we took a leaf out of their book. We did lots of pre-planning to ensure that we had a good holiday. My advice to anyone going there in the winter months is: Prepare, Get thermals, Layer Up. Oh God, I sound like Bear Grylls! 🙂
My BF was thrilled as this was an opportunity to buy the Proper Kit. We bought silk glove-liners (to be worn under your ski gloves), thermals made of Merino Wool, and Gortex walking shoes. And we layered up – wearing base layers to “wick away” any sweat, with our ski gear on top as a durable waterproof layer. We bought what we thought we needed, but we did not splash out on The Best or any top name brands. The prices you can pay on this type of gear are astronomical (eg. gloves for £150).
And I’m pleased to say that it paid off. We were able to comfortably stay outside for an hour or two at a time. We were advised to go inside every couple of hours to warm up, have a hot drink etc. But we were lucky – the coldest we experienced was -12 degrees centigrade. This was really cold but it could have been worse! 🙂
I was also pleasantly surprised about the daylight hours. Before we went I had read a brochure about Lapland (which admittedly is further North) which said you only get a few hours of “grey light”, akin to light levels at dawn or dusk. On the basis of this I left my sunglasses at home and took Vitamin D tablets instead. That turned out to be unnecessary. It was daylight from 9am ish until 4.30pm ish. We didn’t notice much difference from the UK in mid-winter and it didn’t impede our holiday activities at all.
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