Skiing in Finland: Magnetic North

Skiing in Finland: Magnetic North
Above The Arctic Circle, A Magical World Awaits
BY PATRIC THORNE

YLLAS IS THE LARGEST SKI AREA IN FINLAND.Y BUT REALLY, it’s not the skiing that makes Ylläs special.
Maybe it’s the northern lights, or the reindeer safaris, or thesauna that’s also a gondola (which, by the way, takes you to another sauna). Maybe it’s the snowmobiling, or the dog sledding, or the chance to run into Santa Claus, who lives nearby.

Or maybe it’s not any one of these things, but how they all come together. There’s a magic in the air in the far north of the world that sets Ylläs apart from other ski destinations. True, there are other resorts that boast extreme-north cred (and better downhill): mag nificent Marmot Basin near Jasper in Alberta, Canada; Riksgränsen, just over the Swedish border, for skiing under the midnight sun each May and June; Valdez, Alaska’s mecca of extreme skiing.

The skiing isn’t what makes Ylläs special because, well, there isn’t much that’s special about the skiing. There are 60 or so runs, an impressive sounding 30 lifts (though all except the aforementioned “saundola” are surface tows), 1,520 feet of vertical, and six blacks, including a 1.6-mile World Cup downhill. But the thrills can be short-lived, and most people can’t stay out on the slopes for too long anyway. Though the ski season begins in October and lasts until May, the sun doesn’t rise in winter until late January, when temperatures can be as low as -22 degrees Fahrenheit

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Finland’s version of a winter wonderland

Like we said, it’s not really about the skiing. To fully appreciate this winter wonderland, start by booking a stay at one of the resort’s luxurious log cabins. These traditional lodgings are built to a design that goes back centuries, and incorporate the obligatory sauna along with modern décor and conveniences. They lie scattered about the woods that surround the resort center and ski lifts. Eminently accessible but wonderfully secluded, they offer privacy and proximity in equal measure. And if you really want to get away from it all, the three-story Log Castle Karkelo, 20 minutes away, boasts a regal stone tower, room for 10, and a spacious hot tub.

Then there are the reindeer. Synonymous with Finland (and Santa Claus), these endearing creatures are an integral part of Lappi culture, with reindeer herds and their colorfully clad herders a common sight in these parts. And no, they can’t really fly, but sign up for a reindeer safari and they’ll take you for a heck of a sleigh ride across a blue-tinged Arctic landscape. You can also try dog sledding on a husky safari, but be forewarned: The dogs love to move fast, so you’ll need to keep them under control — this far north, the next stop is the North Pole. Snowmobiling is another must-try, whether you’re gunning up the mountain, cruising under the northern lights, or embarking on an epic tour to the Arctic Ocean or Russian border.

Of course, no trip to Scandinavia would be complete without the requisite sojourn in the sauna. Do as the Finnish do and sweat it out in a traditional-style sauna, and then plunge into a frigid lake via a hole cut through the thick ice. Better yet, do it the way the A-list does and board that sauna gondola: Just slip into your swimsuit and enjoy the ride as the four-person cabin follows the lift circuit en route to yet another sauna at the top.

The nearby Snow Village cuts an impressive figure. Now in its ninth year, it’s constructed in late November of some 1,650 tons of snow and 330 tons of natural, crystal-clear ice — daunting figures until you realize you’re practically at the North Pole — and includes an ice bar, an ice restaurant, and the de rigueur hotel made of snow, where 30 rooms welcome guests with thermal sleeping bags and frosty works of art. If the fancy takes you, you can even wed in the ice chapel beneath the northern lights.

Which brings us back to where we started. At Ylläs, you can find most anything you’re looking for: luxury, adventure, relaxation, seclusion, snow (lots of snow), and, yes, skiing. But the true attraction of this far north treasure is that all of these come together in a world of magical, frozen beauty.

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