Finland’s Winter Wonderland

By Dale King and Julia Hebert

Had Jussi Eiramo’s car not run out of gas while he was returning from a fishing trip to Utsjoki, Finland, in summer 1973, he might never have discovered a wilderness wonderland 155 miles north of the Arctic Circle. When the car sputtered to a halt, the fisherman found himself at the edge of a vast, beautiful and pristine woodland where he felt very much at home.

He returned to that special place time and again, to camp, to build a chalet and, eventually to construct a café for passing tourists. In time, Eiramo built 31 cabins out of deadwood logs – the sturdy timber of trees that thrive in severe cold.

Today, what Eiramo started has blossomed into an immense, year-round village called Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort. It stands on property peppered with evergreens, snow-covered igloo-style visitor abodes and glass igloos perfect for viewing the Aurora Borealis (“Northern Lights”) that set the sky ablaze some 200 nights of the year. Cabins of all sizes, including the enormous Celebration House, with two dining rooms and space for 250 guests, dot the landscape.

Known as Lapland, this spread of countryside blanketed with snow from late fall to early spring is an immense geographical area in far northern Scandinavia. It covers four countries – Finland, Russia, Norway and Sweden – and transits hundreds of fells (lakes) and forests where 10 percent of the population is employed in the field of reindeer herding.

At Kakslauttanen, glass igloos combine the warmth of log cabins with 360-degree views through a dome of glass panels. All feature a private sauna, fireplace, kitchenette and a bedroom with glass roof.

Restaurant Aurora, with a panoramic window view from the bar, is the resort’s latest on-site eating spot. With three private dining rooms, it can accommodate 500 guests for Lappish and Asian delicacies.

While every season has its charm in Kakslauttanen – a snowball’s throw from Saariselka, Finland – winter is a frozen delight. Tourists trek the grounds in snowshoes and on sleds, bound up in heavy parkas and coats to protect against temperatures that often dip to -20 degrees Fahrenheit.

The more curious of visitors can go to town and see the Sami – the indigenous folks, known as Lapps or Laplanders. Some wear colorful cultural garb; others, regular clothing. The Sami language is split into 10 distinct tongues, which are not mutually intelligible.

Notable Samis include The Blacksheep, a punk rock group; singer Joni Mitchell, actor Mikkel Gaup and actress Renee Zellweger, whose mother is part Sami.

Locals have names for various parts of the year. “Kaamos” is the mystical period between December and January when the sun does not rise at all. Lying below the horizon, it paints the skyscape a deep twilight blue.

The terrain is light each day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with the bright, white snow adding to the glow. Kaamos is a time of phenomenal Arctic lighting, when the sky is blue in the north and red in the south.

Around 2 p.m. each day is the so-called “blue moment,” when everything, including the sky and the snow, turns blue for 15 minutes. This unique pigmentation occurs only in the Arctic.

Summer in Kakslauttanen has special activities, as well. This area is known as the “Land of the Midnight Sun” because Old Sol never sets for a month during June and July. The big orange ball just sort of sits on the horizon through the night and early morning.

But the winter season takes advantage of the region’s far-north location and frigid environment. Visitors can go on various “safaris” which are nothing like those in Africa. A “Husky Safari” places riders at the helm and on the deck of a sled pulled by six of the sleek northland dogs. Horseback riding brings its share of devotees, and rides in a one-reindeer open sleigh are not out of the ordinary. Snowmobiling across the tundra-like snow fields is de rigueur, and a “snow tank” pulls hearty folks in a glass-topped conveyance.

Santa Claus is always in town, at Santa’s Celebration House – the largest log building in Finland. In fact, the gent with the long beard will meet with kids in the winter, and it’s not unheard of to see him visit weddings during the summer.

Couples can arrange to tie the knot during any season at Kakslauttanen. In summer, temperate temperatures encourage outdoor services, with walks along streams and through pastures. In winter, an ice chapel is available for the “I do’s.”

Saariselka is also a popular spot for winter “white weddings.” Arrangements can be made to use St. Olaf’s Chapel or Tieva Chapel, not far from Kakslauttanen.

Finland’s Winter Wonderland