I have a strange need for snow. When I try to explain, I usually say how snow can light up the darkest of wintry days, how a blanket of newly fallen snow is like a rebirth of a landscape: everything looks new, clean and fresh. Of course snow also reminds me of my childhood.
Growing up in Tampere, central Finland, I couldn’t wait to lie down on newly fallen snow and make angel shapes with my outstretched arms and legs. When I got my first pair of skis for my 4th birthday I decided to try them out on a field where just a few patches of slush remained on a sunny spring morning in late April. I think I would have ruined them, had my father not stepped in to save the birthday present. As a school child, I’d cross country ski every weekend in the winter with my friends to a coffee hut near our home. We’d spend our pocket money on a cinnamon bun and a mug of hot berry cordial and ski back home. Cross country skiing was the one sport I was ever any good at – for once my long limbs were of some use.
So it’s no wonder I was quite emotional when I was saw these beautiful wintry scenes on my first morning in Äkäslompolo in the Finnish Lapland.
As you can see the weather was gorgeous. Sunny and barely below freezing (-4 C). I was staying with my Finnish friends who are as mad about skiing as I am. As soon as we’d had breakfast of rye bread with ham and cheese and coffee (naturally!), we decided to start the holiday week with a cross country hike on a nearby track. The first leg of about 7 km took us to one of the many huts that the system of ski tracks has scattered around the area of Ylläs.
I was kitted out from my friend’s more than adequate ski store. She even had a suitable ski suit and boots to match for me to borrow. I looked the part but once on the track felt anything but a pro.
When used to the old feeling of the narrow skis, I could appreciate that the kit she’d lent me was of outstanding quality. It didn’t, however, make up for my lack of fitness. It’d been over two years since I’d cross country ski’d.
|This is me two years earlier – spot the narrowness of the skis.|
I struggled with the efforts of the uphill ‘giliding’ (instead I crawled up the snowy banks) and once fell over on a downhill track. Taking on a descent on the narrow planks could not be more different from slalom where all the control is in your legs and skis. Here you just have to keep to the prepared downhill cross country track, bend your knees, keep your balance (!) and hope for the best.
Drenched in sweat and panting, I made it to the first hut and was able to pretend I’d have no problem with the return trip. To my surprise this turned out to be right – fortified by the coffee and laskiaspulla (a cream filled bun served around Ascension Day in Finland and Sweden) I got into a stride and even got up some speed. Still, I was glad when I spotted our turning and could look forward to a hot sauna and a well deserved glass of white mulled wine.
Later in the evening over a delicious supper of ‘reindeer temptation’ (stewed reindeer steak, onion, carrots and potatoes cooked with cream in the oven), our hostess said, “That was good. Shall we try a longer tour of 20 km tomorrow?”