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A 4 days getaway in Saariselkä, the northernmost ski resort in Finland is an utmost relaxing experience. Saariselkä is known especially for Urho Kekkonen National Park and the skiing tracks in the breathtaking scenery of Finland Lapland. The location is 250 km / 155 mi north of the Arctic Circle. The cross-country skiing season in Saariselkä is long, often starting already in October and lasting at least till late April.
Our second visit to Saariselkä was at Easter time in mid-April. The previous visit four years earlier in the beginning of January was our very first visit to Lapland. What a huge difference – in April the days were long with sunlight from 5 am till 9 pm, temperatures over +10 degrees Celcius while in January the sun didn’t practically rise at all and the temperatures were freezing at around -25 degrees Celcius. On the first visit my daughter was 5 years old and learning to ski while this time around she was already 9 years old seasoned skier.
We’ve become huge fans of skiing holidays in Lapland! So far we’ve visited Ylläs, Pallas and Ylläs-Pallastunturi Nationalpark, Salla, Ruka (great skiing although not technically in Lapland as it’s located south of the Arctic Circle). Next on the list to visit are Levi and Pyhä though there’s a high chance that we’ll be returning to Saariselkä again too.
Best of Saariselkä: Skiing Tracks and Wilderness Huts
There are around 200 km / 125 mi cross-country ski trails, 34 km / 21 mi with illumination (making it possible to ski even in the middle of the winter when the daylight hours are short). There are over 40 day trip huts and open wilderness huts around Saariselkä area and Urho Kekkonen National Park. The huts are usually simple but are open for everyone to use: have a break and warm up by the fireplace, eat your snacks, barbecue sausages, etc. There’s also usually an outhouse toilet available in the hut’s vicinity.
Although Finns stereotypically are introvert (for example don’t be offended if you’re not greeted by strangers in cities, hotel or office lifts etc), it’s usual to say hello to fellow cross-country skiers in Lapland – a short “Hey” or nodding is fine when you encounter someone. Also asking for directions and about the skiing conditions is welcome and people are usually very helpful. Huts and fireplaces are shared with everyone and are great places to exchange experiences with other outdoors-loving people.
A good reason to learn a bit of Finnish are the quite funny names of the places in this region.
Day 1: Rumakuru (Ugly Gorge)
Length: 12 km / 7,5 mi
Mostly flat and easy track in the beautiful nature of Urho Kekkonen National Park.
The Rumakuru hut was a great place to take a break and enjoy some snacks.
Day 2: Kaunispää and Palo-oja (Beautiful Head and Burning Ditch)
Length: 12 km / 7,5 mi (circle route)
Difficulty: Medium – includes long climb up to Kaunispää but the route back is a nice and easy track through Urho Kekkonen National Park.
Restaurant: Kaunispää Skiing Resort Café on top of the downhill skiing slope
Palo-oja Hut is a lovely place to stop and barbecue sausages
In the end we passed Kummituskämppä, an outdoor fireplace that looked like the perfect place to visit with the very little ones just learning to ski.
Day 3: Piispanoja (Bishop’s Ditch)
Length: 11 km / 6,8 mi
Restaurants: Savotta Cafe
After-ski: Laanila ski-boot dance “monotanssit” in the afternoon
The Saariselkä skiing track map online is an excellent resource to plan your adventure. The cafes along the skiing tracks. Information about the huts and trails.
Day 4: Other Fun Winter Activities
After three days of skiing you might feel like doing something else for a change. Here’s a few ideas what else you can do in Saariselkä in the winter.
Try the Longest Toboggan Run in Finland (some say longest in Europe)
1,8 km / 1,1 mi long toboggan run starting from the top of Kaunispää fell at 438 m / 1437 ft from sea level. Bring your own toboggan or rent one from your hotel. You can reach the top of Kaunispää by walking, skiing, driving, taking the ski bus or taking the chairlift at Ski Saariselkä.
A great option for especially families with smaller kids is to enjoy the bottom part of the toboggan run close to the village. You don’t need to go all the way to the top, you can also walk as far up as feels good for you – this is what we did when my daughter was 5 years old. This time round we didn’t have time to go tobogganing, but it looked like a lot of fun when we skied up to Kaunispää alongside the slope.
Fees: The toboggan run is free. Toboggan rent at Holiday Club 5 euros per day. Chairlift 6 euros for a single ride.
Relaxing at the Spa
Saariselkä Spa is the northernmost spa in Europe. My daughter loved the counter-current swimming pool and the water slide. Thre were different saunas: Finnish sauna, aromatherapy sauna (pressing the button on the wall released water to the stove and a nice eucalyptus scent) and a steam sauna (for all genders so you might want to wrap into a towel before entering!). Bring your own towels (or rent one).
Fees: 20 euros for adults, 15 euros for children, towel rent 6 euros each.
Saariselkä Angry Birds Park
Saariselkä Angry Birds Park is a great place to spend a few hours if the weather isn’t inviting or if you and especially the kids feel that it’s time to take a break from outdoor activities. We visited on our previous trip when my daughter was 5 years old and she loved it! It was lots of fun exercise also for the parent.
A small building next to Holiday Club claims to be Santa’s office. In practice it’s Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort’s office but kids enjoy thinking about what Santa and the elves would do in their office 🙂
Renting Skiing Equipment
It is possible to rent cross-country skis in Saariselkä for example at the Ski Shop at the Holiday Club. They will ask your height, weight and shoe size to give the right sized equipment for you. No reservations in advance.
Fees: Classic style skis and boots 15 euros per day, skating style set 20 euros per day.
Where to Eat
We cooked our breakfasts and most of our dinners at the apartment which was very convenient. We also prepared a snack lunch for each skiing day. Saariselän Kuukkeli K-Market had a good selection of supplies. We stopped at cafes for coffee breaks, had one lunch and one dinner at restaurants.
Snack lunch: Sandwich, sausages (ketchup and/or mustard if you prefer), banana, apple, snack bars, coffee/tea in thermos, chocolate and licorice. Pack along matches, tissue, plastic bag (to pack the trash and take home with you).
Cafe Porotupa: Idyllic little café right next to Holiday Club main building. Only a couple of tables inside but on a warm and sunny spring day the tables outside were the perfect place to enjoy an afternoon coffee. They also had oat milk available. Pancakes looked too good!
Kaunispään Huippu: The café at the top of Kaunispää fell offers lunch and a wide range of homemade cakes. The doughnuts were fresh and delicious.
Muossi Grilli: this fast-food place offers a wide range of burgers. We tried cheese burger, double burger and reindeer burger and can give thumbs up to all with fries. They offer also gluten free buns.
Pirkon Pirtti: On our last night in Saariselka we wanted to have dinner at a restaurant and had a tough choice between Pirkon Pirtti and Petronella. The latter was offering only 3 course menus at that time, so we opted for Pirkon Pirtti for the wider selection including local specialties, kids list and pizzas. Don’t let the exterior of the building fool you, the interior of the restaurant is nice and idyllic.
Where to Stay
We can recommend the Holiday Club Saariselkä apartments that are well equipped with linen and all needed kitchen equipment. We’ve stayed at both Riekonraito and Siulasekä apartments. Both have 1 bedroom, 2 beds on the mezzanine loft, fireplace, sauna. Ideal for 2-4 persons although you can fit up to 6 persons if the sofa-bed is taken into use.
Riekonraito’s central location at just across the street from the Holiday Club main building with reception and spa, a few hundred meters from the grocery store. The location was ideal for us as we were travelling with public transportation and didn’t have a car.
Previously we stayed at Holiday Club apartments Siulaselka that are located a bit further from the main building. It was possible to get to some ski tracks directly from the door which was great with a child practicing to ski. It’s a good location if you are visiting Saariselkä by car, have a rented vehicle or don’t mind walking a kilometer to get to the grocery store and other services in Saariselkä village.
How to Get There
The great thing about Saariselkä is that it’s easy to access with public transportation and about everything in the village is within walking distance so a car really isn’t needed. There’s a ski bus connection running about every 30 minutes between the village and the downhill skiing resort.
The most convenient and fast way to get to Saariselka from Helsink is by air. There are daily flights by Finnair and Norwegian from Helsinki to Ivalo. The flights often fly via another Lapland destination Kittilä, so watch out which flight you book. You’ll notice it from the flight time – a direct Helsinki-Ivalo flight takes 1h40m while the flight via Kittilä takes almost an hour longer. Sometimes the latter flight option may be less expensive though.
There is a convenient bus connection between Ivalo airport and Saariselkä village. It’s very easy to find the right bus at the airport: just exit the airport and you should see it about 100 meters to the left. The price for adult was 10 euros and children under 12 years old 5 euros.
Other options to travel to Saariselkä are by train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi and taking a bus to Saariselkä.
Three days was way too short to experience everything that Saariselka has to offer. There are numerous excellent reasons to return for another visit:
- Glass igloo hotels and resorts near Saariselkä to stay and sleep under the open sky and see the Northern Lights from a bed.
- Downhill skiing
- The Old Gold Mine “Prospektorin kaivos”
- Husky Bar /Mehtä-baari
- Sauna at Laanila
- Kiilopää Fell Center
- Huts in the Urho Kekkonen National Park
Have you visited Saariselkä? What did you enjoy the most? Please share your tips with us, we’d love to hear from you.
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Are you looking for Lapland holidays with a wide variety or activities and unique experiences for the whole family? Prefer a place accessible by public transportation? Ylläs, located about 200 km/125 mi north from the Arctic Circle, is a fantastic base for Lapland family holidays thanks to the wide variety of activities as well as tracks and slopes for all levels. It is ideally located at the southern corner of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park. You can choose either Ylläs Ski Resort in Äkäslompolo or Sport resort Ylläs on the Ylläsjärvi side of the fell. Since I had earlier visited the first one, we headed this time the latter one to get a new perspective to the amazing winter wonderland.
Visiting Lapland – especially if traveling with kids – gets a lot easier if you do a bit of research and plan ahead. Other excellent options in Lapland include Saariselkä and Urho Kekkonen National Park, Pallas and Ylläs-Pallastunturi National Park, Salla, and Ruka (great skiing though just south of Lapland and the Arctic Circle). Read further for to discover how to design your perfect Lapland experience in Ylläs!
Snow Village Lainio Ice Hotel
Are you a Game of Thrones fan? In that case you definitely shouldn’t miss visiting Lainio Snow Village, that’s an ice castle offering snow accommodation about 20 km from Sport Resort Ylläs. Even if you’ve never watched an episode (like us) it’s certainly worth the visit. I’m not sure how I’d missed this and learned about it only towards the end of our stay in Ylläs. If you can manage the distance (around 14km from Sport Resort Ylläs), it’s possible to ski to Lainio Snow Village from Ylläs making it a great day trip. Alternatively, you can either join a tour or take a taxi if you don’t have a car. If you’re looking for a truly unique Snow Village Finland experience you could have dinner at the ice restaurant or stay overnight in the amazing ice castle rooms made of snow and ice (reservations required for both restaurant and hotel).
This is the 18th time when Lainio Snow Village has been built and every year the Lapland ice hotel has grown bigger and more impressive. Game of Thrones is the theme for a second year in a row and it’s also the last chance to visit it as we heard that a new theme is planned for next winter! We learned that the ice is from the nearby lake and actually from last winter and has been kept frozen over the summer as the construction starts in November and it’s too early to get enough ice.
I’m sure it doesn’t come as a surprise but it’s cold in the ice hotel, so dress warm. Especially fingers are frozen easily when taking photos so smart phone compatible gloves would be very useful! We toured the ice castle in about half an hour, but we’d recommend to allow at least 1 hour for your visit to have plenty of time to fully enjoy Lainio Snow Village and enjoy a nice warm cuppa in the café to warm up your cold fingers afterwards.
Opening times: 10 am to 10 pm
Fees: Adult 17,50 eur, Child 10 eur (4-14-year-old). Pre-booking is possible for a private tour for 65 eur. Taxi from Sport Resort Ylläs – Snow Village Lainio – Yllärjärvi cost us 72 eur (we asked the driver to wait with our luggage in the car while we toured the ice hotel).
Ylläs is one of the best places in the world for cross-country skiing even for beginners. There are plenty of easy tracks and maintenance is usually excellent. There’s a good network of cafés and skiing huts along the tracks so it’s easy to plan even long routes. There are 330km / 205mi of illuminated ski trails where it’s easy to ski even after sunset. Here’s examples of two routes that are easy and suitable for kids with some skiing experience.
Route 1: Sport Resort Ylläs to Latvamaja (via Kahvikeidas) ~15km / 9,3mi
This route offers pleasant skiing on mostly flat ground. Kahvikeidas unfortunately is no longer maintained by Metsahallitus and in private ownership there are now fees for the use of the premises which is understandable but makes the place feel considerably less welcoming.
Route 2: Sport Resort Ylläs to Aurinkotupa (circular route) ~10km / 6,2mi
The first 4 km are very easy, mostly downhill or flat till Aurinkotupa café. We had the opportunity to watch reindeer feeding in the yard. There’s also an outdoor fireplace where it’s possible to barbecue for example sausages on the open fire. We also spotted a reindeer in the yard and had the chance to watch it’s feeding. The second part of the route is more challenging with uphill climb – you could consider going in the opposite direction if you prefer.
How to plan your skiing route?
It’s a good idea to start your route plan by identifying places for breaks: cafes, wilderness huts, etc where to stop on your route to rest, have some snacks, and use restrooms. Ideally you can find a circular route so that you don’t need to return the same way. Double-check: are the distances reasonable considering your experience and fitness level as well as the weather conditions? You and especially the kids might also need some shorter breaks along the way for example to have a sip of water. It depends on your experience and fitness level how far you can go before a break is needed. What’s working well for us at the moment is to take a shorter break about every half hour and a longer break every 1-2 hours.
Check the weather the night before and plan your route and what to wear based on the forecast. Check again in the morning to make sure there’s no big changes and your plan is still valid. It’s a good idea to try to get to the tracks reasonably early in the day for a number of reasons but especially because the daylight time is limited (with the exception of late spring), the tracks are in better shape (especially later in the spring they may start getting softer in the afternoon). On the other hand, at sunrise the temperature may still be extremely cold so a bit later in the morning might be ideal. Check also the time of sunset – darkness falls maybe 30-60 minutes after and you wouldn’t want to get caught in the non-illuminated tracks later (unless everyone would happen to be equipped with a headlamp flashlight!)
The skiing routes are divided to thee maintenance classes: I, II and III. Number I is maintained throughout the season on a daily basis so it’s the safe choice early in the season or if there’s been heavy snowfall or wind. Trails in classes II and III are open only from February/mid-February till end of April and to our experience these tracks often have the most naturally beautiful sceneries.
Ylläs boasts to be home to the longest slopes in Finland (3000 meters) and it’s easy to reach the top with the gondola that’s quite a rare in Finland ski resorts. However, the gondola may be closed due to strong winds (during our visit it was closed on 2 out of 5 days) but it’s possible to check online the status of open lifts and slopes. There’s a good variety of easy and moderate slopes as well as some more challenging ones including the world cup racing slope for the fearless! It’s good to be aware that the wind and cold temperature can make the conditions quite challenging – on our first descent we could barely see anything due to heavy snowfall and goggles freezing before halfway down the slope!
After sunset at the top of Ylläs it felt eerily almost like we could have been on the surface of the moon – surrounded by utter darkness except for the blinding headlights from the huge maintenance vehicle, blazing wind and viciously flying snow. I’ve rarely been as happy as when we opened the door and entered Ylläskammio café at 718 meters above sea level and could warm up by the fireplace with hot chocolate! If you happen to visit there close to the closing time of the slopes I’d warmly recommend to take the slope 28 “Koulurinne” on the left-hand-side to get downhill since on the right side only the black slope was illuminated – luckily we realized at the last minute although it was quite a heavy climb to get to the other side from that point.
Opening times: 10 am to 5pm (open till 7pm during high season, Christmas holidays and from mid-February to late April)
Fees for 3 hours ski pass: Adult 39 eur, child 22,30 eur (6-11 years-old) + rechargeable key cards 7 eur
Check out all the skiing pass prices here: https://www.yllas.fi/en/activities/skiing-2/ski-tickets-and-prices.html
Super ski pass 3/4 or 4/5 offers the opportunity to ski at Levi, Olos, and Pallas in addition to Ylläs (either on 3 out of 4 days or 4 out of 5 days) and sounds like a perfect solution for avid downhill skiers especially if you have a car to make it easy to transit between the four Lapland skiing resorts.
Fees for equipment rental at Head Ski Rent: set (alpine skis, poles and boots) for 3 hours Adults 28 eur / Kids 19 eur (11 and under) + helmets 5 eur
Have you ever felt like learning something challenging although it feels painfully difficult? That describes my feelings towards snowboarding. About every ten years I’ve given it a go and I have to admit it doesn’t get any easier with age… I’m super slow at learning it yet enjoy challenging myself. In 90 minutes the 9-year-old had pretty much learned the basic technique while I was still basically not much beyond the starting point but happy to have survived without injuries 🙂 Just kidding, it was great exercise in perfect winter weather.
Fee for 90 min private class: 111 eur, 2h snowboarding set rent 25 eur / person
Swimming and chilling in the spa
After a long day on the skiing tracks or slopes it feels awesome to go for a swim and we were lucky to have Ylläs Hotel Saaga’s spa accessible through the indoor walkway from our Ylläs Chalet building. The spa is quite compact with a swimming pool and a couple of whirlpools. The water in the bigger pool felt a bit cool for us and the whirlpool with warmer water was fully occupied all the time. It was a bit crowded during our visit – I’d recommend checking the time table for aquabic classes and maybe visit at another time if you prefer a more peaceful spa experience. It was nice that there were plenty of water toys that could be borrowed. We especially enjoyed playing catch with a ball. There are Turkish and Finnish saunas (separate for women and men, access from the shower area).
Opening times: 1 pm to 9 pm
Fees: The entrance is included for those staying in Ylläs Hotel Saaga. If staying at the Chalets as well as others the prices are 14 euros for adults and 7 euros for children under 12 years old.
We rented fatbikes for one hour to test this way of moving on snow. It turned out to be a bit more challenging than it looks like. The terrain, weather, the quality of the bike seem to have quite a big impact on how light or heavy fatbiking feels. We started off on a uphill trail which soon proved to be a bit too much for the nine-year-old. We ended up walking the bikes quite a bit but reached a nice spot to see the views. The way down on the other hand was fast and fun. We’d recommend fatbiking to those who can go for the adults bikes which are suitable for people over 160cm/5ft 2in.
Fees: We rented our fatbikes from Jerissport that gave -20% discount for kids under 12. In total it was 35 euros for one hour, including the bikes and helmets.
In addition to skis and snowboards, it’s also possible to rent snowshoes or fatbikes from the equipment retal shops. The wintertrails where it’s possible to walk, snowshoe or bicycle are clearly marked on the skiing route map as well as signs on the tracks. We went snowshoeing in Pallas-Ylläs National Park last year, read more here.
Aurora Borealis watching
The northern lights are maybe one of the most amazing spectacles nature has to offer and there are good chance to see them in Ylläs – this is where I had the opportunity to marvel them for the first time in my life a few years ago. The most likely time of the day to see auroras is often from around 10 pm to 1am. There are some ways to forecast the probabilities of northern lights, for more information see here. One night I looked out of the window and got lucky to see a glimpse of the northern lights – so exciting that I could barely hold myself from rushing outdoors 🙂
One of Finland’s best ice swimming places I’ve experienced is located in the Äkäslompolo side of Ylläs. It’s possible to rent the private wood-heated sauna with plenty of space for 15 persons, for more details see here.
Sledding and playing with the snow
There’s an outdoor play area next to the slopes that especially around 2-7 year-olds will enjoy and there’s also a sledding hill next to the playground but you need to bring your own sled/toboggan (or rent it from one of the rental shops). My nine-year-old took a quick look and decided that she preferred climbing and jumping down the huge snow piles.
Music and entertainment
A bonus about Ylläs is that although it’s far from big cities it has a lively bar scene offering entertainment from nightly après ski to live music with front-line Finnish artists often in much more intimate setting than in larger cities. A few years ago I had the opportunity to see Maija Vilkkumaa at Taiga Restaurant and this time Sanni had a concert at the same place.
Snowmobile, reindeer and husky safaris
A wide variety of snow tours and safaris are available in Ylläs. If snowmobiles, reindeer rides or husky safaris are of interest to you this is the place to go for those adventures! See more details on safaris and other possible activities here.
Indulge in Lapland Cuisine
Ylläskammi 718 is at the top of the Ylläs ski resort, accessible by the gondola lift. The big fireplace felt like a life savior after entering from the freezing cold outdoors. A special feature and giving the place a special personal touch was the wooden cups “kuksa” from different owners hung up on the walls. The burger was tasty and the prices weren’t insanely expensive despite the special location.
Latvamaja is a traditional wilderness café in the Pallas-Ylläs National Park. We loved the decoration and above all the big fireplace at the heart of the café: it’s possible to hang your clothes to dry in the warmth of the fireplace and let them dry while enjoying some refreshments. The pancakes with jam and cream were yummy and the crowberry juice delicious. They even had oat milk available with coffee which seems to be still quite rare in these surroundings.
Aurikotupa is also a traditional café with wooden tables and benches. “Mokkapalat” and hot juice did the trick to get us re-energized to take the more challenging route back. The café also advertised home-made gluten free doghnuts which weren’t too bad at all. Indoor restrooms are a big bonus!
Restaurant Kota is located just next to the slopes. Don’t let the exterior scare you – at first sight I thought I wouldn’t enter such a touristy looking place. However, after reading the reviews online it sounded worth checking out. In addition to the looks from outside, also the initial impression of the service inside was a bit puzzling: no one seemed to take any note of us let alone guide us to a table. I was already thinking of leaving when my smart daughter urged to go ahead to the counter to make our order. Self-service was the way to go: we paid in advance for the meal, they handed us soda cans and told the glasses are on the table. The reindeer burger turned out to be very tasty with some added blackpepper. Later the staff was very friendly though: asking if everything was well, filling up the water jug, asking if we would like dessert.
On our final day we had lunch at the Yllas Saaga Restaurant at the hotel to keep things simple. I couldn’t find information about the lunch online but found some recommendations on Tripadvisor and we didn’t need to be disappointed. Especially the salad buffet was fantastic after eating way too much burgers and other fast food. The buffet included a wide selection of starters, mains and dessert as well as coffee, tea or hot chocolate. If we would have discovered this earlier we would have returned for another lunch for sure.
Fees: Adult 15 eur, Child 7,50 eur
We usually had lunch at the cafes and restaurants while breakfast and dinner we enjoyed preparing at our apartment. We bought groceries at Eelin Kauppa K-market in Ylläsjärvi at arrival (and later by skiing the 5 km there) and replenished supplies from the minimarket downstairs at the Ylläs Chalets. The prices were a bit higher than in larger markets but still less expensive than eating at restaurants, and it was the most practical way to ensure eating relatively healthy during our Lapland winter holidays.
Where to stay?
Since we were traveling by public transport our key criteria was close proximity to resort services and walking distance to ski tracks and slopes. A lot of options had already sold out when we were making our reservations only about a month in advance. I was delighted to find a modern 1 bedroom apartment available Ylläs Chalets apartments, adjacent to Ylläs Saaga Hotel.
The apartment was located on the 2nd floor with views towards the forest and slopes. It had a well-equipped kitchen where it was easy and fun to prepare meals. Sauna was a must for us and indeed it was in use almost daily. The drying cabinet was very handy for drying clothes and towels. The apartment didn’t have wifi but internet access with LAN cable. We found the storage lockers downstairs for skiing equipment convenient.
There was indoor access from the next floor to the hotel and spa via a walking tunnel. It was a big help that on the day of departure as we could move the suitcases to the hotel lobby via the indoor pathway and leave them in the luggage storage at the lobby till it was our time for departure.
What to wear?
Layers, layers and layers is the best advice to follow so that it’s easy to remove or add a layer in case you get hot or cold. Warmest possible gloves are a must. Neck warmer tube scarfs are very useful as you can pull the scarf easily up to warm your face from the freezing wind. I also recommend high quality sports socks and ski boot overboots – they’ve been a savior to my cold feet!
What to pack in your back-pack: snacks and other essentials
The freezing temperatures have their pros and cons for packing snacks. On the positive side, there’s no risk of food going bad because of heat but it can freeze! Pack along for example water, hot juice / tea, muesli bars, sandwiches, chocolate.
Pack also a skiing route map, fully charged mobile phone with maps app, power pack and charging cable (the cold temperature might use up the phone’s battery quicker than you’d expect), tissues, matches, cash, possibly some additional clothes, room keys, sun glasses, lip balm/chapstick, sunscreen (especially in the spring and if the weather is sunny).
How to get there and move around?
See the location of Ylläs and the places we visited on the map:
Bus: Onnibus overnight double-decker bus from Helsinki Kamppi to Ylläsjärvi, duration aprox. 15 hours (the bus stop is in the parking lot of Eelin kauppa store). It’s about 5km/3mi from Ylläsjärvi to Sport Resort Ylläs. There is skibus service multiple times a day, connecting Sports Resport Ylläs, Ylläsjärvi and Äkäslompolo as well as other stops on the way but the timetables weren’t a perfect match for us. See Skibus schedule and ticket informaiton here. We decided to take a taxi as we had quite a bit of luggage, skis and equipment with us. The taxi numbers can be found at the entrance of Eelin kauppa.
Train overnight (approx. 15 hours) from Helsinki to Kolari and bus from the station to Ylläs. This is a convenient option as the train and bus schedules are synced to support smooth transitions. You can select either a seat or a cabin with bunk beds for 1-3 persons. There’s even an option to take your car onboard the train but beware that there’s limited availability and at winter holidays these spots get sold out early. This is maybe the most comfortable option to travel especially if you don’t mind the sound of the railway tracks through the night.
Airplane to Kittilä and bus from the airport to Ylläs. The flight is only about 1,5 hours and there’s always a bus connection leaving shortly to Ylläs. This is the quickest option but at high season especially if you haven’t booked early the flight tickets tend to be very expensive and there’s the usual luggage limitations (check your carrier’s policy on sports equipment if you plan to bring your skis or snow boards). Finnair and Norwegian fly from Helsinki to Kittliä.
Car – it’s about 14 to 15-hour drive from Helsinki which means that in the winter it’s not possible to reach the destination before sunset. Note that although there are good roads all the way to Ylläs, in the winter the driving conditions can become very challenging, and therefore I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t have experience of winter driving. Stopping on the way for a night in about half way for example in Oulu could make the drive a bit easier.
What has been your most memorable Lapland experience? We’d love to hear from you!
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March to April is the best time to visit Lapland because the darkness and freezing temperatures of the deepest winter are over and the sun is often pampering the winter wonderland’s visitors. In April the days are long already – if you are lucky the sun is up on the cloudless sky and shining till late. Easter is the top season when it’s most crowded and expensive but at other times it’s possible to find good deals on accommodation. However, Lapland is huge and very sparsely populated so even at the busiest time outside the biggest resorts you will find plenty of peaceful nature. Downhill skiing slopes may get busy in the weekends but on the cross-country tracks are unlikely to be very crowded.
Last Easter we enjoyed a skiing holiday in Salla “In the middle of nowhere”. This year we headed to an even more remote and secluded location in Lapland: the northern part of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, the 3rd largest and most popular national park in Finland based on number of visitors – over half a million annually – and which just turned 80 years. Other wonderful places to visit in Lapland include Ylläs in the southern end of Pallas-Yllästunturi National park and Saariselkä and Urho Kekkonen National Park. Another great skiing destination in Northern Finland is Ruka south from the Arctic Circle.
Unfortunately public transportation isn’t easily available and the most convenient way to get there is by car. It is possible to take a train to Kolari or fly to Kittilä or Enontekiö (closest airport but Finnair flights only once a week on Saturdays in the winter) and take a taxi to your accommodation.
Pallas Top 5:
- Lots of snow, peacefulness and the cleanest air
- Cross-country skiing in the natural park and on ice
- Breaks at wilderness huts and cafes
- Downhill skiing on natural snow in Pallas
Lots of snow, peacefulness and the cleanest air
If you are looking for snow you can’t go wrong with Lapland where snow covers the ground for at least half of the year from October to May. The snow is at its deepest in March and can even exceed 1 meter depths. It’s claimed that the air in Pallas is in the top 3 of the cleanest air in the world and it really did feel wonderful to breathe. The snow is usually so clean that it’s possible to melt it into drinking water (just watch out where you take it from!) and you might find also a stream or a spring with fresh drinking water straight from the nature – if it’s not frozen.
Cross-country skiing in the national park and on ice
There’s lots of skiing tracks to choose from for all skill levels. We were mainly skiing in the Raattama area where it’s possible to choose hills or flat ground, open fields or forest. In any case you can enjoy beautiful pristine nature. Lakes are frozen with thick ice so you can ski over the ice. The weather can be quite windy and change quickly from sunshine to fog or snowfall so it’s good to be prepared with warm layers (although not too much as little ones get hot easily), sunglasses, sunscreen and a backpack to carry everything.
How to keep the little one motivated to ski all day? This was my main concern before this trip. Kids often enjoy outdoors activities but would need to have variety, fun and lots of breaks with snacks built into the day to keep on going for hours. Here’s our favorites:
Snacks: juice, granola bars, sandwich, fruit, nuts… I always look for healthy snacks but pack along also a bit of chocolate and some sweets in case of most critical moments.
Some games to play:
- I spy: “I spy, with my little eye, something that is…“ Based on something that you see around you. We played it only with colors but you could play it with first letters, shapes, etc.
- Vocabulary games: thinking of different words starting with the same letter (in Finnish “laiva on lastattu”), compound words, finding words that start with the same letter as the previous ended, poems – coming up with rhymes…
- Reindeer names: think of the funniest/cutest/strangest names you could have if you were a reindeer – like “Silver sparkle foot”, “White yawning runner” – let your imagination fly!
- Picking a focus point: “look at that funny looking tree, let’s have the break after we’ve reached it”
- Skiing ball – this was a brilliant idea borrowed from here. We used a floorball instead of a golf ball which was good size but a bit heavier ball of the same size might be the easiest for kids to keep on the trail.
- There’s some more fun ideas here – I like especially the Alphabetical trip and Guess who
Don’t forget lots of encouragement and praise – it usually does miracles!
Snowshoeing in deep snow
We experimented snowshoeing for the first time. The snowshoes really helped walking on deep snow where without them you might fall waist deep in snow! But it’s a pretty heavy exercise if the snow is deep and soft. Actually, it turned out that it was easier for my daughter as she is lighter. Finding the right calm pace is helpful. Note that moving on roads or paths with snowshoes is slower than in winter boots – in the end we ended up taking the snowshoes off to go faster. Anyway, it was a lot of fun and nice variety to the skiing.
Breaks at wilderness huts and cafes
It’s a good idea to get a ski track map of the area where you are going to ski. A good practice is to plan the day’s trip based on breaks (our favorite part of the day!). Select at least one ski hut or café to be your destination and always pack along plenty of snacks, water and hot drinks. We visited Varkhaanjärven kota, Porokotajärven Kotakahvila and Montellin maja (on top of a very steep hill – so proud of my daughter for not giving up despite the long 3km/2miles climb!).
Downhill skiing on natural snow in Pallas
Ski resort Pallas is only open about 10 weeks in a year from mid-February till the end of April. We started our visit from the Pallastunturi visitor center which is open to visit free of charge. We watched a short, about 20 minutes interesting and educational video about the history and special nature of the area.
Ski resort Pallas is focused on offering a genuine experience of skiing on natural snow – which felt very pleasant, softer and less icy than artificial snow. It’s a popular place for off-piste skiing but we were careful to stay on the slopes. There’s 9 slopes with the longest run being 2,4 kilometers (~1,5 miles) but just two anchor ski lifts. At Easter time there were lines to the lifts but I would imagine that other times and especially during the week it there wouldn’t be waiting – even in the busiest time of the year there was plenty of space in the slopes. There was a good variety of slopes for beginners and families as well as more advanced skiers.
There is a very small café in the back-slopes with some tables and benches outside where it’s really nice to take a break and relax for a moment with a cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate.
Summary of the best tips for skiing with kids:
- Take lots of breaks and remember the snacks
- Clothing: Layers, sunscreen and sunglasses
- Variety: different activities to ensure the kids don’t get bored
- It doesn’t need to be so serious – let’s make it fun and play games 🙂
- Lots of encouragement and praise!
Saved for next time…
Arctic Spa Jeris sauna and ice swimming
Hetta-Pallas hiking trail (55 kilometers)
Kite skiing – we saw many people kite skiing and I thought it would be impossibly difficult until I met two ladies in the sauna who were active kite skiers and convinced me that I should go on a course and learn it!
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