For the first leg of our Ice Run journey, we’re exploring the Finnish Lapland, one of the coolest parts of Europe. We went crazy with winter activities like snowshoeing and dog-sledding. Here’s one of our stories on snowmobiling in Rovaniemi.
There is a reason why we don’t go fast on ice. There’s a lack of friction on ice; any attempt to walk on ice makes us slip and slide. Fortunately, we humans have come up with a string of inventions to overcome this barrier — ranging from skis to ice-skates and sleighs. Seeing that speeding on ice seems to fit the theme of our Ice Run, we’ve taken up the challenge to try out snowmobiling on ice here in the Finnish Lapland.
It’s 9pm in the evening and the sky is completely dark except for a gentle white glow that rims the dark clouds. “Let’s cross our fingers and hope we see some Northern Lights along the way,” says our guide Sami from Lapland Safaris. We’ve been hunting for the Aurora Borealis for days but we haven’t been lucky and the lights have eluded us. This year is said to be one of the best times in the past decade to see the Northern Lights. Besides, we are nearing 21st December, the shortest day of the year, and also the best day of the year to spot the aurora. Not to fret though, there’s a whole range of fun things to keep us entertained in Rovaniemi.
A Lesson in Snowmobiling
Back on the snowmobiles, Sami gives us some brief safety guidelines. Apparently, snowmobiles can go up to 120 km/hour and is not simply a toy to mess around with. If not careful, we can easily slide off the ice and into the frozen river which can instantly cause hypothermia. A driver’s license is required and just like driving a normal vehicle, no drinking is allowed before taking the wheel. A snowmobile costs around €13,000 and weighs almost 300kg; Sami warns us, “Never never put your leg out when your snowmobile flips over, you’ll just end up breaking your leg.” We all shudder a little at that thought.
While snowmobiles may be the answer to our strange desire to seek out icy thrills, they are simply a mode of transport for Lapland’s locals – just like a scooter or mini car. “Many of us who live in Lapland own a snowmobile as it’s the easiest and fastest way to move around when it’s snowing,” said Sami.
Soon enough we are off, riding on the frozen surface of Ounas River, a 300km long river that winds through Rovaniemi. It is one of the biggest, and most important, rivers in the Finnish Lapland. Each year, the river freezes from October through to May, and makes for excellent ice fishing and snowmobiling. With over 30cm thick ice, the river can withstand the weight of a truck, not to mention our group of snowmobiles. But we aren’t worried — earlier in the day, we had already given a shot at ice-fishing and it was obvious that the layer of ice was as thick as a brick wall and chances of us falling into the water was at a minimum. Besides, we’ve got Sami, our trusty guide to watch over us.
Riding a snowmobile is surprisingly easy. The vehicle, while bulky and sturdy, almost feels like motor-powered skis. Although it wobbles from time to time on the slippery snow, all we have to do is keep the wheel straight and stay on the marked trail. As we’re all beginners, we obediently follow our guide in single file, and keep a safe distance of 10-20 meters from one another, trotting at around 45km/h. Thankfully it’s only –4 degrees Celsius, which Sami refers to as “summer weather for us locals”. To be safe, we’ve geared up with balaclavas, thick overalls, quality snow boots and sturdy motorbike helmets. Despite the chilly wind, I sit snug and comfy in my Michelin-man outfit, gazing up to the sky and feeling the spray from the snow beneath my feet.
Rovaniemi definitely puts the fun back into winter — with or without the Northern Lights.
Speeding through the Darkness
At first, the night lights of the city twinkle and shine on both sides of the river, but just ten minutes later, the lights quickly fade into the distance behind us. The sky lights up in an iridescent orange glow, shimmering from the horizon into the dark blue cosmic space above our heads. We almost mistake the glow for the Northern Lights, but Sami brings us back to reality and tells us they are just the city lights.
We continue to ride on the wide, open river before veering off into a forest, snaking our way through narrow trails flanked by thick tree branches. At one point, we inch right by the edge of a small frozen lake where icicles hang from the banks. After almost 12km from our starting point, we arrive at Reindeer Cottage, a comfortable, modern wooden cabin run by Lapland Safaris. Sami starts a fire and puts a kettle of water to boil by the burning logs. It’s warm and cosy in there as we watch snow fall right outside our window. Surrounded by tall pine firs, we feel as if we’re in the wilderness even though this is just in the suburbs of Rovaniemi, with easy access to creature comforts.
It’s almost nearing midnight, the prime hour for Northern Lights viewing. Sami whips out a few pairs of snowshoes for us to go frolicking in the thick snow. Like penguins set free in their playground, we waddle through the 20-cm thick snow (which is hardly considered deep for the locals). Sami usually uses these snowshoes to go hunting or ice-fishing in accessible areas, where snowshoes really come to good use in knee-deep snow.
As we head back towards the city, the golden glow welcomes us back from the wilderness. We are buzzing with a natural high from the evening’s thrilling activities. Rovaniemi definitely puts the fun back into winter — with or without the Northern Lights .
Here’s a short video from our snowmobiling experience:
Disclaimer: This trip was made possible by Lapland – the North of Finland, but all opinions expressed are our own.