Dashing Through the Snow in Finland
I did dash through the snow. On one occasion it was on a one-horse open sleigh. I was staying at the Hotel Kalevala near the town of Kuhmo in the Wild Taiga region of Finland. In this area it is traditional to go on a sleigh ride on Boxing Day and my hotel had organised an opportunity for every guest to take a short ride. The horses and sleighs had come from Helsinki and the one driver, who switched from one sleigh to another with an agility that defied his age, was once a successful racer. As we flew across the packed snow the cold air slapped my face and the wind whipped my shouts of joy out of my mouth. But not before the driver, balancing on the sleigh runners behind me had heard them. The more I shouted, the faster we went. We were both laughing with sheer exhilaration when suddenly it was over and the horse slowed to a trot, our circuit completed.
My hotel was on a small headland surrounded by a frozen lake, Lake Lammasjärvi. This presented another opportunity for dashing through the snow on snowmobiles. The safari incorporated a long sprint across the frozen water before entering the woods and threading my way along a narrow track that weaved its way through the trees. There were ruts and bumps in this track so I spent some time in the air as well but the machines are well adapted for these conditions and I soon got the hang of it. There was only one occasion when I misjudged a large rut and flew off the track and landed in some deep snow. It was not a problem as our guide, Hannu, raced to my rescue and dug me out. Brimming over with confidence by the time I was back on the frozen lake and was able to open the throttle I was tempted to take on the machine in front of me. But I knew, Martti, our leader and a veteran snowmobile competitor, would not approve so I kept my place in the line. It was a great morning’s adventure.
I never mastered the kick sled sufficiently to dash anywhere but it was fun trying. These sleds are used by the locals to get around and they can take a passenger or the weekly shop on the seat at the front while the person on the runners generates some speed and then stands on the long runners to guide the sled or slow it down. I mastered the guiding but not the braking and sometimes had to jump off and drag it to a halt. As well as the kick sleds the hotel also had a supply of toboggans for the guests to use on a variety of slopes in the grounds. Fortunately, there was a flat area at the end of each slope.
I saved my best dash through the snow to the last day – when an unexpected space became available on the Husky Family Experience. Fortunately, I did not need a family to participate and there was just one family of three in the group of six that was collected from the hotel by Suvi. We were taken to the home of Suvi and Aki – their company, Routa Travel, run several different husky experiences including overnight safaris. Their twenty-five dogs were very quiet when we arrived. Those that would be working that morning were already harnessed and watched us quietly as Aki explained how the dogs were controlled and told us we should never, ever let go of the sled, whatever happened.
Demonstration finished, Aki began to harness dogs to sleds. Only fourteen of the dogs were being used. Those fourteen started barking anxious to get going and the others joined in as they wanted to work as well. As we waited we were able to make a fuss of the dogs who were all very friendly. Once the first two drivers were on board and had set off behind Aki’s sled the rest of us walked through the woods to the end of the circuit. It was magical – the branches of the trees on either side of the path were heavy with fresh snow and the air sparkled with particles of silver. I was apprehensive and excited at the same time – would I be the one to part company with my sled? Despite hitting some large bumps and grazing a few trees I maintained contact with my sled and was soon shrieking with delight. This seemed to encourage the dogs to go faster but they always kept a safe distance from the leading sled.
We each did two circuits before returning to Suvi and Aki’s house where we had some vegetable soup with elk and chatted about the dogs. Their nearest neighbour on both sides is three kilometres away. Driving their dogs through their own private wilderness was definitely the highlight of a wonderful week dashing through the snow.
Read more from Valery at http://experiencedtraveller.co.uk