Ski or hike in winter wonderland? Well, why not both? In full coronacrisis and after watching a TV broadcast on Lapland, I went looking for our next winter holiday … up north. And ended up with booking flight tickets and an apartment in Levi, in the north of Lapland. It turned out to be a true winter wonderland holiday with 5 fantastic things to do: skiing, reindeer, a husky safari, hiking and, as top of the bill, a Northern Lights spectacle. My top 5 of fantastic things to do in a Laplandic winter holiday with teenagers.
More practical stuff (accommodation, booking, …) in my next blog.
#1 Go skiing
Levi is Lapland’s most popular ski resort. For a reason. It has about 38 km of slopes with 27 lifts, mostly for beginner or average skiers. All information is neatly bundled on a separate website and related app. There are a lot of blue and red slopes and some black ones for the experts. The red slopes are in general easier then the ones in the Alps, the blue ones – mainly at the south slope – offer broad, pleasant ski experiences. Scenic lifts, such as the Levi Express and the Gondola2000 cabins take you up, but most of the lifts are T-bar or pome lifts, some up to 1200 meters long.
In general, it’s easy and comfortable skiing on well maintained slopes with even in the peak season, few queues at the lifts. Read here for more information on this ski paradise.
#2 Visit a reindeer farm
You haven’t experienced Santa’s land without visiting a reindeer farm or take a reindeer ride. There are several options, mostly organised by family run farms in small groups, sometimes with or without pick-up included. We took a 6 kilometer reindeer ride in an open sledge near Köngäs on a small family-owned reindeer farm. There were only 4 sleights, with 2 passengers each. You don’t have to do anything. The reindeer pulls the sleigh and you enjoy the ride, covered in a warm blanket. Our ride went over a frozen lake through a small forest under a clear blue sky. Afterwards, we visited the reindeer farm and helped feed the animals, which was also an experience. The whole tour took about 3 hours. Our children described the tour and visit as ‘really cool’ …
#3 Go on a husky safari
No Lapland without a real husky safari either. Here too, the possibilities are endless, ranging from a short 2 kilometer ride up to 20 or more with a kennel visit included, with our without pick-up. We did a 5 kilometer tour with the children (Levisafari Co) and later in the week, my husband and me took a 10 kilometer one. Both were worth the money.
Usually, one persons sits down and the other is upright on the sleigh, balancing the weight, steering a bit and, more important, managing the speed. Huskies can run up to 20 kilometers per hour, so as you can imagine, you are up to a pretty fast ride, especially at the start and when going down. It takes some strength to keep the sleigh in balance, but our children of 17, 15 and 13 could manage themselves. Our youngest of 11 couldn’t steer himself. All sleighs follow each other, with some distance. The 5 kilometer ride was headed by a snowmobile, the 10 kilometer one by a sleigh steered by the owner and an electric snowmobile at the end. After both rides, we had time to visit the kennel and meet the beautiful and friendly dogs.
Both rides went through Laplandic wilderness. We found the 10 kilometer more beautiful. This one, organized by Maglelin Experience, a small family-owned company with 44 long-distance racing huskies, took us, under a clear blue sky, into the wilderness at the edge of Finland’s oldest National Park with a track on fairly flat terrain of frozen and snowy marshland and forest and easy to drive. After the ride, we enjoyed a hot berry juice and a snack in a Lapp hut around an open fire while the experienced owner shared interesting information about the life in a husky kennel and their races. Absolutely worth it !
#4 Watch the sky for the Northern Lights
The cherry on your stay is of course watching the Aurora Borealis, the so-called Northern Lights. Since Levi is in the far north of Finland, about 150 km above the Arctic Circle, it’has a great potential to actually see the lights between August and end of April. On average, the auroras can be seen 111 times a year. So if all the odds are in your favor …. Indeed, it’s not so obvious to see the lights during your stay, a bit of luck doesn’t harm: you need full darkness, a clear, open sky, a bit of wind and cold. We stayed 7 nights and could only enjoy one evening this wonderful spectacle.
So, how do you know there is a chance to see the lights? Check the weather conditions daily, install some Aurora apps on your mobile phone or ask the local tourist information center. We installed 2 apps (My Aurora Forecast & Alerts and Northern Lights Alert). Both are for free and give an indication of the aurora activity and the cloud cover. These indication change every 30 minutes so it’s important to check as of 7 pm, once it’s fully dark. The Levi tourist center also shares these forecasts but still, this is no guarantee. Weather conditions may change during the day. It might be clear sky during the day and clouds in the evening or vice versa. We saw the lights when our app indicated there was a 17% chance ….
Where did we go? You best see the lights in a place where it’s fully dark and no ‘contamination’ of city, hotel, … lights. There are several places around Levi but in the village, best is to go up the ski slopes or to the Immeljärvi lake. We went at both places but saw the lights eventually high up the ski slopes.
We took the Levi Express to the Panorama hotel and then walked higher up, to restaurant Horizon. You can go as far or high as you want, but be careful, there are no artificial lights up the slopes! Also, check the timetable of the Levi Express. Beginning of March, it closed at 9 pm, so we had to walk down via the stairs next to the Panorama hotel. This was feasible but sometimes they might be slippery. If you have a car, you can or course drive up to the hotel (there is a main road) or around Levi or take a taxi. And of course, there is always the possibility to go Aurora Hunting with a professional company, who really takes you out to the more remote areas.
What to take? Flashlights for sure. And dress in warm clothes, it’s freezing cold up there (-11°C). And some patience. You don’t know whether and if so, when this magnificent spectacle will cross your eyes, so you might have to wait pretty long. And even then, the light show may only take a couple of minutes. The Levi tourist center advised us to watch out as of full darkness, which was during our stay around 7 pm and a likelihood between 8 pm to 1 am. The Norther Lights appeared around 9.30 pm and we enjoyed the spectacle for about 30 minutes with clear green and violet shaded. And I agree, the aurora’s marvelous dance is definitely worth seeing!
#5 Enjoy winter wonderland nature
There are a lot of other winter activities in and around Levi, which you can do on your own or with a company. There are about 200 kilometer cross-country skiing trails and excellent hiking trails. I went for a walk on snowshoes up to Kätlä, a small hill (503 m) in front of the ski slopes and next to the Immeljärvi lake. From this hill, you have a very nice view on the surroundings. It’s a walk of about 9 kilometers, taking about 3 hours. Walking in full snow is not as easy as I thought it would be. I went up with a clear sky with a path which was clearly visible, although not marked. Nearly at the top, it started snowing and the path turned out to be covered in snow, so it took me quite some while to get ‘off’ the hill. The snowhoes did their work and made hiking easier. It was a beautiful hike, so really worth doing. You can go by yourself, but just have to be careful in walking down. Also, I wouldn’t do this in really cloudy weather with low visibility, it’s very hard then to find your way back. Snowshoes are a must, you can also rent them at the Zero Point.