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!


Dog Sledding and Other Adventures

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!


A Dip in the Baltic Sea

It wasn’t that cold while we were visiting Helsinki, around -6 degrees, but apparently we’re wimps after living in Vancouver and it was quite cold being outside all day. So on our second full day we decided to shake things up a bit and start with a visit to the Winter Garden, which is actually housed in a greenhouse. I was fully expecting to pay entrance for the garden since it’s indoors, but we were thrilled to discover that it’s actually a city space that’s free to visit! You don’t need a lot of time to see the whole thing, but it was a nice green activity on a cold day.


Plus it’s near the Helsinki Aquarium, so we decided to visit that afterwards. Katie didn’t even know Helsinki had an aquarium, but it came up in my google search, and being married to a biologist, we have a bit of a tendency to visit aquariums whenever possible. We’ve also been to the SeaLife aquariums in Portugal and New Zealand on previous vacations (and of course, Vancouver Aquarium, our personal favourite). The Helsinki SeaLife was a lot bigger than I was expecting; it wasn’t unique to the sealife in the region, but still made for a fun visit. Great if you have kids!

We still had a bit of time to kill before Katie finished classes, so we decided to go skating! There are several free ice skating rinks around the city and we hit up the one at the Tapiola metro station. We had to pay to rent skates, but if you bring your own, you can use the rink for free. There’s a large area that’s great for beginners, and then a big loop skate going around the lot. I don’t really go skating a lot, but I’ve come to really love it over the past few years! We warmed up with hot chocolate before meeting up with Katie to go to Kiasma, an art museum in downtown Helsinki.


The Kiasma had a special exhibit on Markus Copper that Katie wanted to see. He’s a Finnish artist that seemed to specialize in art that makes people feel uncomfortable. He definitely succeeded, a little too much in that his art made me feel too uncomfortable and I had to tap out. It was a bit of a marriage of mechanics, engineering, and sound, but with a bit too much focus on torture and destruction for my liking, although the engineering of his work was definitely impressive. Katie loved it and did the whole exhibit, but Seth and I popped out a did another exhibit they had on Lapland instead. The exhibit usually lives up north in Rovaniemi and features work by all kinds of Lappish artists. It was still a bit weird (I admit, I’m not that cultured), but I preferred it.


On our last day in Helsinki, we finally got some sun and had the full Finnish experience by going to the sauna. Sauna is huge here and Katie recommended Loyly, which is located right on the water. We went early to get a proper seafood lunch (we had Pike Perch and it was delicious) and then spent an hour at the sauna. It’s a public sauna, so they have it set up with a shared area and 2 large saunas. It was a bit of a trial by fire entry to sauna starting with the public sauna though. The Finns prefer their sauna REALLY hot and it was a bit of an adjustment for me. At first I’d be okay with it, but every time someone would pour water on the rocks I’d feel like I was choking and have to leave for a minute. Not to be deterred though, we did it several more times after that and it grew on me a lot! The public sauna was actually a wood sauna, so I didn’t like the smoke, whereas all the other saunas we did were electric.


But my favourite part of Loyly is that it’s right next to the sea and they have it set up so that you can go outside and do a proper dunk in the cold salt water! So of course we had to do it. It was -12 degrees on the day we visited and the water was -0.6 degrees and just starting to become slushy and frozen. It’s actually not that bad when you’re doing it right after sauna (because you have lots of body heat) and you can immediately go back to the sauna after, so I ended up jumping in the Baltic Sea 3 times! But it’s definitely a totally different experience for the people that walk to the Sea, swim, and then have to get out and get dressed while still being cold. I’m not ready for that yet, but the cold water therapy while doing sauna was actually really lovely.


We spent a bit more time exploring the city after that and went to the Kamppi area of town to see the library. As a book nerd, I love libraries and this might possibly be the coolest library I’ve ever been to! Lots of libraries have really neat architecture (I’m a big fan of the Vancouver library for example, and even the MUN library), but not only did this library have cool architecture, it was just a really cool contemporary space. The bottom floor had reception and a café/restaurant, and some larger event spaces with big windows and high ceilings. The middle floor was the least interesting to look at, but had the coolest amenities. The center of the floor was just a big tiered hangout space where people could meet or study and they had all kinds of break-out rooms focused on creativity.


There were sewing stations where you could rent a sewing machine for the day; there were instruments to rent and recording spaces you could use; there were VR and video gaming rooms; there was a huge 3D printer you could make use of; and tons of bookable rooms for collaborating. In short, it’s everything I think a modern library should be. It was really all about meeting the needs of the community and providing access to things the average person might not have otherwise. And it is clearly appreciated because the space was packed with people! Then finally, the top floor housed the books, another small café, and lots more hangout and study/reading space. It was just one giant room, with floor to ceiling windows and a profile that matched the external architecture. It didn’t have as many books as I expected if I’m being honest, but again, I think it was focused on being modern and mostly housed contemporary texts instead of academic ones. Personally I appreciated this – there’s always going to be universities for that purpose and I liked that this library kept in line with its theme of primarily being a community space.