Skiing in Levi

The last segment of our trip was to another small town in Lapland called Levi. It’s only about an hour from Yllas, so we drove there after our visit to the snow hotel. While I didn’t care to sleep in a snow hotel, I was keen to try out one of the glass huts. There are several different glass huts around the region and as the name suggests, they are basically glass roofed hotel rooms. Unsurprisingly, they are not cheap, so I shopped around a bit before deciding on the Northern Lights Huts in Levi, which are pretty new and the cheapest I could find in the region.

It was a great choice! It’s located on a reindeer farm about 20 minutes away from Levi town. There’s 10 glass huts on the property and we had one booked for 2 nights. The huts are very new and really nice on the inside, so it was nice to relax for a little bit after a busy day of dogsledding. We returned to town for supper, but otherwise had a chill evening.


My primary motivation in booking the hut was as a last ditch attempt to make it easy to see the northern lights. Fortunately, we’d already seen them 4 nights in a row by then, so it removed a lot of the pressure. The geomagnetic storm was winding down and the KP was back around 2-3 for our last two nights, so I wasn’t sure if we would see them. On the first night it was pretty cloudy and we didn’t see anything before bed. The app said the clouds would clear around midnight, so I set an alarm and we woke up at midnight and could see them from our bed! So it ended up working out nicely because I definitely would not have trudged down to the lake in Akaslompolo at midnight, but it was nice to wake up and watch them inside for a bit and then go back to sleep.

On our last full day in Lapland we had planned a second skiing day. Levi resort is bigger than Yllas and fortunately the wind storm had moved on and the entire resort was open! While Yllas only had two faces to access the mountain, Levi had at least 4. There are two main lifts, one from Levi town and one from the south face, which is where we opted to start. Levi was busier than Yllas, so it took a while to get our rentals, but after that there was a lot of terrain to choose from.


I recall there being at least 3 chair lifts and 1 gondola, but pretty much all the other lifts were T-bars and there must have been at least a dozen of them! The mountain is completely bare on top, so you can pretty much ski down it in any direction. Each T-bar only services about 2-3 runs, so we slowly made our way around the mountain. The terrain was simple enough that we could ski any run on the mountain, so we just explored as much as we could. It’s a very different experience than skiing in Canada, but I enjoyed it more than Yllas.

We had lunch at a small restaurant on the east side of the mountain, but my favourite skiing terrain was on the west side. While the temperatures had been between -10 to -20 degrees celsius when we arrived in Rovaniemi, it had warmed up a lot over the week and it was around 0 degrees when we skied Levi. It felt much warmer and it even starting to feel a bit like Spring. There was no fresh powder on either mountain that we skied, but because it’s generally cold and dry in Lapland, neither mountain was icy.

We discovered a pancake restaurant in Levi that I was excited to try for dinner on our last night. So we enjoyed some giant savoury pancakes before retiring to our hut for the evening. The KP was only 2 on the last night, so I wasn’t expecting much even though it was clear, but the aurora treated us a real show! I guess because we’re so far north, you can still get a very active sky, even with a low KP.


At first the lights seemed pretty normal and similar to other nights, but around 9 or 10pm they got incredibly active and despite having the glass roof, I couldn’t resist going outside to photograph them. The lights were pulsing from horizon to horizon and we couldn’t catch the full scope of them from inside. It was probably the second best night we’d seen them and it was a real treat to witness them swirling across the sky one last time. Seth had kind of gotten over the allure by that point, but the northern lights captivated me every single night I saw them. I admit I got a little obsessed and since I returned home, I’ve been plotting when I can see them again.

The aurora goes through cycles throughout the night, but they also go through larger cycles throughout time. We’re currently heading into a period of increased geomagnetic activity for the next few years, so it should be easier to see them over the next 5 years, so if there’s ever been a time to plan an aurora trip, this is it!


Our last day in Finland was pretty boring. We enjoyed our buffet breakfast at the hotel and then drove two hours back to Rovaniemi to catch our flight. One thing we learned is that the Finns all have a secret sweet tooth and eat a lot of candy and chocolate. Finnish chocolate is really creamy and delicious, so we stopped by the grocery store on the way back to stock up. We had an uneventful flight back to Helsinki and returned to Katie’s apartment for our last night.

Katie took us to a ramen restaurant for our last meal and we spent an hour walking around the city before returning to her place for one last sauna session. She’s scheduled to finish her degree before the end of the year, but she’s also planning to stay in Helsinki and look for work, so who knows, we might be back again in the future.

Finland is probably not the first place that comes to mind when you’re planning a holiday, much less a winter holiday, but I really loved it. The aurora certainly made it memorable, but even without the aurora, it’s a cool place and I liked a lot of their progressive policies. I would definitely come back in the winter to chase the aurora again – I’m not sure I’d visit Lapland in the summer, but I’d consider returning to Helsinki in the summer and maybe tack on a visit to Norway or Sweden to do some hiking. Overall we had a great trip and would definitely recommend!


Hiking in Yllas

Anyone who’s ever been on holiday with me will tell you I’m not really the relaxing kind of vacationer. I like a good beach day, but I love experiences more and I am generally trying to cram in as much adventure as I can in a limited amount of time, which makes me an early riser. I had to try and let that go in Lapland. Since we were up every night looking for the aurora, we couldn’t also get up early. So we had a lie-in our first morning in Yllas and got up just in time to take advantage of the free buffet breakfast, which could definitely not be missed.

This was by far the most intense buffet breakfast I’ve ever had in my life. The resort had a full continental breakfast spread with a bread and oatmeal bar, cheese and meat plates, yogurt and fixings, and a whole smoked salmon. Then they had a full hot breakfast bar with eggs, bacon, potatoes, waffles, and even reindeer sausage, plus they had drink machines with all kinds of sparkling juice.


We had 2 full days in Yllas, so our plan for the day was to go skiing. You can ski down either side of the mountain, with the main part of the ski resort on the Yllas side. However, there is a smaller chalet on the Akaslompolo side as well, so we decided to start there. It was a beautiful sunny day when we got up and we were shocked by how few people were on the mountain when we parked. We went through a long questionnaire to rent skis before one of the employees finally informed us that the top of the mountain was totally closed because of wind, which explained why it looked so empty. The bottom half of the mountain was still open, but there’s limited lifts on this side, so we’d have to drive around the mountain to access the rest since you couldn’t ski over the top. Staff thought it likely the top would be closed the following day too, but we decided to take our changes and postponed skiing.


Instead, we backtracked to the visitor centre for Pallas-Yllastunturi National Park. They have a video that shares lots of information about the park and we got some recommendations for snowshoeing from the park staff. Originally we’d been planning to rent snowshoes, but they’re pretty expensive and despite how cold it is, Lapland only gets about 1m of snow base every year, so we decided to save our money and make do with our microspikes instead (which we’d brought from home). People seem to use studs for walking around in the city, but we didn’t see anyone hiking in microspikes. People were either just walking in their winter boots or they were trudging along in snowshoes that weren’t needed.


There’s tons of walking and ski trails in the park and around the ski resort. Nordic skiing is incredibly popular and I feel like we probably should have tried it, but I really have no interest in it (sorry nordic lovers!) so we did an assessment of the walking trails instead. Like I said, it’s not a particularly mountainous region, so a lot of the trails are flat, either through the forest or across the frozen lakes. I like a bit more of a challenge, so we picked Kuertunturi, which is one of the few hilly views. It’s across from Yllas mountain and I figured if the ski resort was still closed the following day, we’d at least get a view from the hike.

We returned to the cabin and re-packed our bags for hiking. There’s a few options for hiking Kuertunturi: you can hike to the summit from either side of the mountain as a there-and-back trip, or you can thru hike it and then make a loop back to your car along the road. We decided to start from the Akaslompolo side, which leaves from the church and is supposed to be more scenic if you only do one side. We figured we could decide at the top if we wanted to hike back or do a loop.


The hike starts off with a gentle incline hiking through the trees. It’s not too steep or challenging and you meander up the side of the mountain. Once you hit the open top (it felt like the alpine, but I think it’s just barren), it gets a lot steeper to the summit. It could be hiked in boots, but I was really glad we had the spikes at this section for better traction on the steep ups and downs.

The views from the exposed section are phenomenal, but the downside was that it was indeed extremely windy. We could understand why the lifts were closed at the top of Yllas while hiking Kuer. But it felt good to be out hiking. I’d been quite cold for most of the trip because we didn’t do a lot of extraneous activities, but I felt really good hiking Kuer. I only needed my fleece on the way up and even at the top, my puffy was still sufficient to keep me warm until we stopped for a break.


We didn’t stay at the top too long because of the wind and found some shelter under a tree. It was an easy decision to forgo the loop trail, but on a less windy day I think I would have gone for it. Instead we hiked back down and found a cafe for some hot chocolate before taking a break at the cabin and going out in search of supper. The KP was supposed to peak on this night, so we went for pizza supper around 6pm when it started to get dark. Before we’d even finished dinner I was getting notifications from my app that the aurora would soon be visible, so we didn’t waste any time in heading down to the lake around 7:30pm.


Holy moly, the aurora on this evening was something to behold. It’s the kind of aurora I only dreamed of seeing. The KP was over 6 and we were in the height of a geomagnetic storm. We later learned that people had been able to see the aurora in Scotland and as far south as England, so you can only imagine how it looked north of the Arctic Circle. Even as we were walking to the lake, the sky was completely lit green by the aurora. I practically ran there and even though it was incredibly windy on the lake, we were overwhelmed by the dancing night sky.


I quickly set up my tripod, but it was hard to even know where to aim it because the aurora was literally everywhere and the sky was filled with green and purple. The sky looked like it was on fire and the photos turned out incredibly vibrant. The first two nights we’d seen the aurora moving, but I’d say this was night where it really looked like it was dancing. It warps across the night sky and we could see it from horizon to horizon. The photos turned out amazing, but it’s hard to capture the scope when you’re surrounded by them.

Like I said in my last post, the aurora goes through cycles, so we hung around for about 90 minutes watching the show. To be honest, it was hard for me to leave even after an hour and a half, but eventually the cold does start to creep in (especially with the wind) and my camera battery kept freezing on me. But it was really special. That was our third night seeing the lights and while we would see them for the next 3 nights, this was by far the best show we got while in Lapland. The aurora always shows up better on camera, but even to the naked eye, it was an amazing sight.


Aurora Hunting in Akaslompolo

After Rovaniemi, it was a pretty leisurely drive to our next stop, Yllas. I’m not sure if it’s just because most of the roads in Lapland were covered in a hard layer of snow, but they were in amazingly good shape. With our studded tires, it made for easy driving, though there wasn’t a lot to look again except flat forest and meadows. The trees were still covered with a thick layer of frost, so they were very beautiful.

There was a reasonable amount of traffic on the road on the main highway, but eventually we branched off the main highway on a shortcut and that road was pretty much deserted. It was still light out and the driving was fine, but it did make me a little nervous to be driving through the freezing cold wilderness without a working cell phone. Nothing happened and it was all fine, but my safety conscious mind tends to wander to these things sometimes.


We arrived in Yllas just as the sun was going down. When we originally booked the trip, I assumed there were mountains in Lapland because of the numerous ski resorts, but overall Lapland is quite flat and Yllas Mountain was one of the only major landmarks in the area. It’s definitely on the small side for someone who regularly skis Whistler, but it is located adjacent to Pallas-Yllastunturi National Park, which has beautiful rolling white hills. Yllas town is pretty much just resort hotels, so we were staying 15 minutes away in the small town of Akaslompolo. This was mostly because it was cheaper than Yllas town, but now that I’ve been to both, I would recommend it because it has more amenities.

We were also staying in a cabin here, but it was part of what I can only describe as a large hotel resort. The hotel had a reception building and a giant restaurant to accommodate the many visitors they receive. There were all kinds of accommodation options and we had a small one-bedroom cabin for our 3 nights there. It was a classic log cabin and was very cozy with both a woodstove and a sauna. The one glaring flaw was that it didn’t have wifi. It was supposed to, but it wasn’t working at the cabins the whole time we stayed there, which was very frustrating for us since we were planning our activities on the go, but we survived.


What made up for the lack of wifi was the restaurant and the location. They treated us to a free buffet supper at the restaurant and we stuffed ourselves on traditional salmon soup, elk stew, and all the fixings you can possibly imagine. But the highlight was the proximity to Akaslompolo Lake, which was recommended as a great place to watch for the aurora and was only a 10-minute walk from our cabin.

Since the previous night, the low KP forecast for the week had done a complete 180 degree transformation and was now forecasting 4-6 for the next three days! Unfortunately, it was looking a little cloudier, so I kept an eye on the app for when the clouds would move out. I think we went down to the lake around 8pm and we had to wait around for a while, but eventually we started catching a glimpse of the aurora through the clouds. It was pretty similar to the previous night and was dancing around, though it was still pretty faint. We watched for a while and then the clouds moved back in and we went back to the cabin to enjoy our sauna.


We were exhausted after the sauna and were getting ready for bed when I got enough of a wifi signal for my app to send me a notification that the aurora was heating up. I popped outside for a minute and could indeed see it dancing around up in the sky, so despite it being 11:30pm and being super tired, I couldn’t resist suiting up again to go outside and look at it. I just walked up the road a little bit at first, but it was much more intense than everything I’d seen thus far, so I immediately got super excited about it! I decided to fully commit and went back to the cabin to tell Seth I was going back to the lake. For safety reasons, I made him set his alarm for 1am and told him if I wasn’t back by then, to come looking for me.


I all but ran to the lake and was panting from the freezing air when I got there, but it was so worth it! The aurora was much more active and visible to the naked eye. Nothing too crazy, but easily the best I’d seen. I set up my tripod and was shooting north for a while when I noticed a pinkish glow coming from the other side of the lake. A few photographs confirmed that I was lucky enough to witness red aurora! Red aurora is supposedly pretty rare, so I was ecstatic about it. I’ve since learned that colour is an indicator of the altitude of the aurora, with red aurora being the furthest outside the atmosphere and blue being the closest, so both of these colours are harder to see. Green and purple hang out somewhere in the middle. We saw purple aurora the following night, but otherwise we mostly saw green.


It was hard to tear myself away from the lake, but I had to get back to the cabin by 1am and my camera battery kept freezing on me (a very annoying problem as I had to keep removing it from the camera to warm it up with my body heat). It took me a while to walk back though because the aurora kept distracting me on the way and I’d have to set the tripod up again. Like I explained in my last post, the aurora goes through cycles and so it will seem incredibly active for a while and then seem to disappear before returning in full force. Eventually I made it back to the cabin with 5 minutes to spare!