For skiers with no appetite for the hustle and hassle of Alpine resorts in high season – especially families, perhaps – escaping to the white silence of Lapland can be an attractive alternative. Finland has the lion’s share of Lapland, and a few years back we got a healthy flow of reader reports on it – but they’ve more or less dried up. The resorts are small but rapidly developing.
The Arctic landscape of flat and gently rolling forest, countless lakes and the occasional treeless hill is a paradise for cross-country skiing.
It also offers good beginner and intermediate downhilling, albeit on a small scale. None of the areas has significant vertical by Alpine standards, and in some cases it is seriously limited.
For a time in midwinter the sun does not rise – the period depends on altitude as well as latitude. Most areas have floodlit runs. The mountains do not open fully until mid-February, when a normal skiing day is possible and Finnish schools have holidays that usually coincide with ours – making it a relatively busy time. Finland comes into its own at the end of the season, with friendlier temperatures and daylight hours longer than in the Alps. At Easter the slopes are crowded.
Conditions are usually hard-packed powder or fresh snow from the start of the season to the end (early May).
The temperature can be extremely variable, yo-yoing between 0°C and –30°C several times in a week. Fine days are the coldest, but the best for skiing: it may be 10 to 15 degrees warmer on the slopes than at valley level. ‘Mild’ days of cloud and wind are worse, and face masks are sold.
The staple Finnish lift is the T-bar; chairs and gondolas are rare. Pistes are wide and well maintained, as are nursery slopes. The Finns are great boarders, and consider their terrain parks far superior to those in the Alps; super-pipes are increasingly common.
There are few mountain restaurants – but you are never far from the base, with its self-service restaurants. There are also shelters or ‘kotas’ – log-built tepees with an open fire – where you can warm up and cook your own food.
Ski schools are good, with English widely spoken. All ski areas have indoor playrooms for small children.
Excursions are common and generally very popular – husky sledding, snowmobile safaris, a reindeer sleigh ride and tea with the Lapp drivers in their tent. Reporters are generally very enthusiastic about these off-slope adventures.
Hotels are self-contained mini-resorts, large and practical rather than stylish, typically with a shop, a cafe, a bar with dance floor, and a pool and sauna. Hotel ‘dinner’ is typically served no later than seven, sometimes followed by a children’s disco or dancing to a live band.
Finns usually prefer to stay in cabins, and tour operators offer the compromise of staying in a cabin but taking half-board at a nearby hotel. Cabins vary, but are mostly well equipped, with a sauna as standard.
The main resorts are Ylläs and Levi, respectively close and very close to Kittilä and its airport. They are half an hour apart, and combined lift passes are sold. Three other resorts worth considering are: Ruka, Pyhä and Iso-Syöte, Finland’s southernmost fell region. These are covered in our resort directory.