Dhe question sounds harmless. “Do you want to make a little extra bow?” Leena Nurmi smiles innocently. It is three kilometers to the hut, it says on the sign, and it is still early in the day. The answer is clear: gladly, why not?
Nurmi runs ahead on the prepared cross-country trail, with winter forest on steep slopes on both sides. 70 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, the trees are packed thick with snow, some bent from weight to the ground. Tykkypuu the Finns call them. They resemble seahorses, millipedes, frogs – depending on your imagination.
It starts to snow, cold wind blows in the face, the fresh snow slows down the skis. But Nurmi doesn’t seem to mind. She blasts ahead on her trail, it is tiring to follow her. The 26-year-old is in the Finnish national B team, with 600 hours of training per year. Sometimes it runs from Ylläs to the Levi ski area – and back again on the same day. That is over 100 kilometers.
“It is not far now,” says Nurmi for the fifth time. When it feels like two hours have passed, there is a sign on the edge of the trail that points to the same hut: three kilometers.
Cozy hideaways in the winter sports area of Ylläs
Exhausted, you stagger into the warm room of “Kotamaja”, the oldest ski café in Ylläs, hours later. Gloves and neckerchiefs dry by the fireplace, leek vegetable soup is scooped into a plastic plate at the counter, and a filter coffee is tapped into it. And once again praises the Finns for the wonderful institution of the wilderness café.
For three generations there have been cozy retreats for cross-country skiers in the Ylläs winter sports area. Some were previously lumberjack huts, others were huts for hikers. Depending on the owner or tenant, they can be functional, quaint or extravagant like the “Navetta”, in German stable, where Nurmi has come for the first break in the morning.
Inside it is dim, as lamps, hollowed out carved tree trunks hang under the wooden ceiling. Spherical chants float through the room, matching the witch masks on the walls and the photos of dolls with long hair, a mustache and a bulbous nose.
She used to perform puppet theater with these earth spirits, says Lea Kaulanen. Until her parents died and she came back from southern Finland to take over the farm. “The cows stood here in the kitchen, the guest room was the barn.”
Lea Kaulanen wears purple glasses with her fringed hair and striped apron. She is actually an artist, but she wanted to keep the yard. “And I’m the only one of us five sisters who can live here.”
Finns mostly come to Lapland for cross-country skiing
As beautiful as Lapland is, you can understand her sisters. In the summer the mosquitoes torture people, in winter the sun does not rise for weeks.
In the past, people lived here from logging and poor agriculture on dry swamps, but nowadays tourism has long been the most important business. Paying guests have been coming since the 1930s, mostly because of arctic activities: sledding with huskies, petting reindeer, ice fishing.
Cross-country skiing, on the other hand, attracts Finns. You can train on the 330 kilometers of trails from October until May. And if it is too cold in the valley, you can switch to the cross-country trail on the flanks of the 718-meter-high Ylläs, where it is a bit warmer. “The view up there is fantastic,” enthuses Nurmi. Everything clear, we will do it.
The first look the next morning looks at the thermometer in front of the hotel window: minus 27 degrees. Snow crystals shimmer like diamond dust through the sun, after a breath the nasal hair sticks together.
Nurmi parks in front of the completely oversized supermarket and loads the skis out of the car. The largest reindeer statue in the world rises above it. The over-indebted owner of the supermarket had it set up to lure customers to Äkäslompolo. In addition, he appeared in various TV shows. Apparently with success: Hundreds of thousands of Finns are now following him on Facebook.
Animals avoid the trails in the national park
Passing red houses with white lattice windows, Nurmi glides out onto the lake. Overtaking cyclists on fat bikes, one cross-country skier is pulled by his dog, another by his stunt kite. The hills all around shine like heads of monks with tonsure.
Every April the runners of the Seven Summits race pant to their treeless peaks, which takes up an old test of courage for young men: climb all six mountains around the Ylläs plus the main summit in one day. Today’s participants have twelve hours to do it, and it’s more of a festival than a race.
Nurmi is content with a mountain, but the climb to it is crisp enough. The sun breaks through the sinuous branches of the pine, the trunks cast long shadows on the immaculate blanket of snow. There are hardly any animal traces to be seen. The moose, reindeer and bears that live in the Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park avoid the trails.
On the mountain, the view glides over forests and lakes
One last steep climb, then you glide towards the slopes and lifts of the ski area. At the edge of the trail, snow blocks are wedged on top of each other, an avalanche went off the short steep slope a few days ago. “Sometimes this trail is closed because the danger is too great,” says Nurmi. Fortunately not that day.
The view from the top of the pass is as great as Nurmi promised. In front of her, the vast Lapland spreads out to the horizon, the dark forests, the white spots and lines of the lakes, swamps and rivers. The 718 meter high Ylläs is the first mountain in a chain that stretches almost 100 kilometers to the north.
South of it is only flat land, on clear days you can see 150 kilometers away – if you stand on the summit. Reason enough to change your skis and get on the red gondola that whirs up to Finland’s highest mountain station.
On the summit there are swathes of snow, jagged ice flags on the antennas give an idea of how grim the wind can whistle up here. “We Finns often complain that we don’t have real mountains,” says Eetu Leikas, 24, who has been a snowboard instructor here for years. “But in the Alps you often only go to the middle station, that’s a similar amount of altitude. And it’s perfect for carving here. “
The snow is perfect in the north of Finland
Right. Even on the black slope you can take turns without worrying because it is as wide as a beautiful avenue. And because it is almost empty, just like the equally generous red ramps to the right and left of it. The Ylläs slopes down evenly like a volcano on all sides.
And the snow is gourmet goods in the far north. If the artificial white in the Alps is often rock-hard in the morning and sulky at noon, you waggle powdery and grippy ground all day long. As a bonus, the wind even blew a bit of deep snow on the sides of the slope.
The smartest Finns called the two longest runs “super long” and “extra long”. Well, you can curve down three kilometers at a stretch.
On top of that, Ylläs scores with an offer that you don’t get in the Alps: skiing until 7 p.m. when the sun sinks into the taiga with a color orgy. Even more spectacular is the cosmic light show that starts a few hours later in the night sky.
Northern lights dance across the night sky
In order for their guests to be able to see the longed-for Northern Lights, the municipalities even switch off the streetlights in winter from 10 p.m. If you want to see the Aurora borealis in all its splendor, you have to climb a mountain again. Leikas, who also takes professional photos, has chosen the Kuer Fjäll as the fastest option.
In four layers of wool and down, he trudges up the steep, trodden path from the parking lot of a hostel. He doesn’t need the headlamp, the narrow sickle of the moon makes the snow glow blue. And the first stars are already shining over the last light of dawn on the horizon.
Almost all trees up here still have thick snow coats. Some look like tattered mummies, others like burning candles. Even without a single aurora, it would be magical to walk through this sculpture park. But then it starts.
At first only a pale line runs across the night sky, from which it bleeds pale green. He quickly widens, begins to pulsate and dance. Shades of red mix into the wavering waterfalls and wafts of smoke that spread across half the sky dome.
The feet slowly become cold, the nose starts to hurt. No matter how could you stop now because of such banal zippers? And above all: when will you ever be offered such an après ski program again?
Tips and information
Getting there: From Munich non-stop to Kittilä with Lufthansa from December to March; from Hanover with FlyCar, Shuttle buses run from Kittilä to Äkäslompolo and Ylläsjärvi (yllasexpress.fi). From the end of January to the end of April there is also an overnight bus from Helsinki to Ylläsjärvi (onnibus.com/aikataulut).
Travel time: From Christmas to mid-February it is dark and freezing. In March and April it is much longer light, the weather is often stable and beautiful.
Cross-country skiing: There are 330 kilometers of trails, all of which are prepared for classic and skating styles. In high winter or in the evening you can follow illuminated trails on 38 kilometers. Every Wednesday at 9 a.m. a bus goes to the old mill Äkäsmylly. The farmers used to bring their grain sacks there on skis. Today it has become a tradition of cross-country skiing: You go by bus, walk back on skis and then dance together in ski boots. In addition, on Thursdays at 9 a.m., a cross-country bus takes you to Aakenuspirtti, from where you can reach the northern and eastern trails.
Alpine skiing: A day ticket costs 42 to 46 euros. In March the lifts run from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., in February until 5 p.m. The best mountains for ski tours are Kesänki and Lainio.
Accommodation: In the two villages in the north and south of the Ylläs there is a wide range of hotels, guest houses, hostels and holiday apartments. In Ylläsjärvi, hotel boxes are located directly at the valley station of the ski area. 800 huts in the Ylläs area can be rented through the tourist office.
Eat: In the “Aurora Estate” on the outskirts of Äkäslompolo, excellent Nordic cuisine is served, for example grilled reindeer steak (auroraestate.fi). The snack bar “Kota” is a little hidden at the valley station of the Äkäslompolo ski area; In addition to the excellent reindeer pizza, you can also get moose and bear burgers there.
Auroras: On the website aurorasnow.fmi.fi you can find predictions about the intensity of the solar storms and thus the Northern Lights.
Participation in the trip was supported by Visit Finland. You can find our standards of transparency and journalistic independence at axelspringer.de/unabhaengigkeit,