On our second day in Yllas we made another attempt at the ski hill. This time we drove around to the Yllas side since there are more chair lifts. It was still windy, so we were disappointed that the top half of the mountain remained closed, but we decided to go skiing anyways. It was mid-week, so fortunately it wasn’t too busy – we had to wait in line at most lifts, but given that half the mountain was closed, it could have been a lot worse.
Skiing in Finland is a very different experience from skiing in Canada. It’s not a very large mountain and it’s incredibly bare and exposed, so the skiing is not as adventurous. If you like groomed runs, it’s a decent mountain, but there’s almost no ungroomed terrain, so it can be a bit boring. The mountain is deceiving because it looks like there is un-skied powder between each exposed run, but because of the climate, the snow off-piste is very crunchy and bumpy – not fun for skiing.
But the biggest difference is the lifts. Yllas had one high speed chair lift going half way up the mountain and one (closed) gondola going to the top. Besides that, it’s almost entirely T-bars. We also skied a second resort in Levi and it was the same. None of the terrain is very steep and because the mountain is so bare, you can ski down any face, so I guess it’s a lot cheaper to install a ton of T-bars, with each one only servicing a couple runs. It wasn’t that big a deal, but it does make for a tiring day when you don’t get to sit on the chairs because then you are constantly on your feet.
So it wasn’t my favourite mountain to ski, but it was definitely an experience! We skied all over the mountain in the morning, then after lunch we managed to find one glade run on the far side of the hill, which ended up being our favourite, so we skied that one a few times. There’s a lookout on the way back to Akaslompolo and we timed our departure to catch the sunset from the viewpoint. We didn’t see that many sunsets in Lapland, but the ones we did see were very beautiful. The sky turns purple and pink and reflects off the snow.
On our last day in Yllas we opted to do a dog sledding tour. I was really on the fence about it because they’re not cheap and you can do them in Canada. But I went to Banff last winter and opted not to do one, so I figured now was the time and booked a half day tour with Rami’s Huskies.
Rami’s is located just outside the National Park and we arrived to the predictable symphony of screeching huskies. We didn’t really know what to expect, but we were excited to learn we would sledding in pairs of two, which meant we would get to drive our own sleds! We got a quick lesson in the basics: hand signals, stopping, how to take turns, and when to slow down; and then we prepared for our 16km run in the National Park, with a lunch break at the half way point. The sled is just big enough for one person to sit in it and one person to stand at the back. The person on the back is the driver, so we decided Seth would steer first while I took photos from the sled.
There was about 10 of us on the tour, plus two guides. Each team had 6 dogs, so there was a whopping 42 dogs in our party! When you’re dog sledding in the wilderness, you direct the dogs verbally on where to go, but we were following a track the entire time, so the dogs pretty much just follow each other and the track, so it’s easy to drive. You just need to use the brake whenever the person ahead of you signals because you don’t want to run into the team in front of you.
It’s a bit of a slow start at first because the dogs are extremely excited to run and there’s a very sharp turn early on that the guides want everyone to take slowly. We had a few stop and starts, which are challenging because the dogs were very restless, but eventually we got into the groove and no one fell off their sled the entire trip, which is a bit of a rarity. Seth had his work cut out for him when we kept stopping because the team behind us had a very excitable lead dog named Ginny, and she would get too close to Seth whenever we’d stop and nip at his butt to try and get him to keep going. Our team was a bit slow, so eventually the guides swapped Ginny into our team and we went a lot faster after that!
We had so much fun on this trip! I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but we were thrilled to drive the sleds ourselves and what left the biggest impression on me was how much the dogs love to run. They are loud when you arrive because they are already hooked up to the sleds and they can’t wait to get going. Around the 8km mark we stopped for a break and the dogs mostly settled down for a rest, but as soon as we started getting ready to go again, they were up and eager to keep running.
We had what I can only call a boil-up for lunch, which is popular in Newfoundland (the similarities continue). We got a little fire going to make tea and the guides roasted sausages for us to snack on with some biscuits. We had the chance to question them on the dogs and learned a lot about the sledding industry. At Rami’s, the dogs will run about 32km a day, 5 days a week, at their peak age and health. They’ll either do two 16km rides (like ours), or a 16km ride in the morning, followed by a 10km ride in the afternoon, and a 5km ride in the evening. They regularly swap out which dogs are in which teams, but the dogs all have distinct personalities and some won’t run together, while others will only run with certain dogs, and some will only run as lead dogs.
It takes about 2 years for dogs to mature, so they don’t work full time before then and are mostly in sled dog training. Once they get older, they reduce the number of kilometres they run per week, but they never fully retire the dogs for their mental health. Huskies are an eccentric breed and I can see how it would drive the dog nuts to not run at all after a lifetime of it. Rami’s doesn’t do dog sledding races, only tourism, and they have about 75 dogs in their kennel, which is considered small. Some kennels have up to 450 dogs!
So if you ever find yourself in Lapland, or even anywhere in Canada that offers dogsledding, I would highly recommend it! We really loved it and I wouldn’t hesitate to go again – now I just need to do some research on where I can go in BC!
Rami’s is close to the Lapland Hotels Snow Village, so after we finished our tour we decided to drop by the hotel. It’s a hotel compound made entirely of snow, so it gets re-constructed every year. I think the layout remains the same year after year, but the village is filled with tons of snow sculptures and those change every year depending on the theme. It seems like their most popular year was when they did a game of thrones theme, but when we visited they had an around the world theme and had sculptures of iconic monuments from around the world.
The village comprises of a snow restaurant, a normal restaurant, an ice bar, and a hotel. During the day the hotel has a cover charge to view, so it operates primarily as more of a gallery. There’s about a dozen different themes rooms with varying numbers of beds. Since no one stays there during the day, we were a little bit confused about how it worked because the village is open to visitors from 10am to 10pm. But if you’d like to stay in one of the snow rooms, they are available purely for sleeping starting at 10pm. So basically you check in, sleep in the room, and get hurried out in the morning, so it wouldn’t be my choice, but to each their own! We enjoying viewing the sculptures and then hit the road for our next stop in Levi!