Winter sports in Finnish Lapland

My only worry about a trip to Finnish Lapland was that I’d get there to find the place full of toddlers screaming for Santa. Would there be any fun for the parents too? Would the big man in the red hat even agree to see big kids like me? Not a great lover of Christmas or the cold stuff, I packed a couple of novels as a means of escape.

I needn’t have worried. Lapland is equally equipped for grown-up fun as it is for children. And there’s no age limit at Santa’s grotto either.

Inghams pioneered ski breaks to Lapland in the 1990s. Now others have cottoned on to the benefits: guaranteed snow and lots of off-slope activities.

“We’re seeing steady growth as awareness increases,” said First Choice senior product manager Ian Davis.   “The resorts of Yllas and Levi are beginning to attract skiers and offer loads of things to do as well as great spa facilities.”  First Choice  has just extended its snow sports programme from Christmas into the rest of the season. 

With more saunas per head than anywhere else in the world, it’s not surprising people come for the spas. When Finns want to get to know each other, they simply ladle some water on the coals and take their clothes off.

It was while waiting for my dinner of wild salmon to cook at the Hotel Yllas Saaga in the village of Yllasjarvi near Yllas that I experienced 20 minutes of sweating with new friends in a pine-scented sauna. When it gets too hot, they opt for the natural way of cooling down – jumping in a frozen lake. At 5pm it was already dark as we frantically ran outside to enter the freezing water. With no moon, my only guiding light was the pale backside of the woman in front of me. I’m not sure this was going to be good for my heart, but it was certainly good clean fun.

More fun came from husky sledging. The dogs were a friendly, yapping bunch who happily responded to our commands to make them stop, turn left, or go faster. We climbed into sleds and rattled across the frozen landscape. There can’t be many more exhilarating experiences than being pulled at top speed by a team of huskies.

A hearty dinner in a local log cabin-cum-restaurant later, and we were out again for a night safari in a snowmobile. Helmeted and in single file, we roared through a snowy forest as the Northern Lights shimmered overhead. A quick stop for a snuggle around a fire and some mulled wine and it was back in the saddle to complete the tour.

The next morning, after a much needed lie-in, it was time to visit Santa. You can read the letters children have sent from around the world while you wait – some asked for world peace and for everyone to be happy; others just wanted a TV in their room.

When I finally got past the elves and into the grotto, I almost lost my tongue. Santa was about eight feet tall and kind of scary, but the children didn’t seem to mind. My list included a snowmobile, four huskies, and my own personal sauna. And if Santa can’t fit them into his sleigh, I’ll just have to come again next year.

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