Have you ever enjoyed a holiday so much that you decide to do it all over again? That’s what we decided to do for our ski holiday this season – same country, same resort, same hotel, same week just one year later. Ruka in Finland had such an effect on us that we had no hesitation in going back to Crystal and saying “same again please”.
A couple of weeks ago we packed the suitcases (always a problem when you only get 20kg for a ski trip – LincsGeek’s ski boots take a massive chunk out of that before we’ve even started) and headed down to Gatwick for our flight to Kuusamo. Crystal (well, Thomson) had changed the flight times this year so they were much better for us, with arrival and departure times being middle of the day rather than late at night. The three-and-a-half-hour flight time seemed to go pretty fast (thanks to Stargazing Live on BBC iPlayer), and the coach transfer from Kuusamo to Ruka is just an additional half an hour – so much nicer than the four hours it takes in Europe!
It was so nice arriving in Ruka and knowing exactly where we were going and what we were doing. You don’t get immediate relaxation the first time you go to a ski resort! Our apartment in Ruka Suites was just as it was last year (although looking a little more tired, it could do with a bit of a spruce up now), but with the added benefit of a view over the valley this time rather than the Village last year. Beautiful.
I don’t know that I will ever get used to the ski hire shop experience on the first morning of a winter holiday. You’re in all your ski gear, overheating in a warm shop while getting fitted for boots and skis. Always a palaver. Thankfully in Ruka the Piste Rental Shop is as quiet as the slopes, and the staff speak excellent English, so you are not rushed and can get sorted with relative ease. I know from experiences in Arinsal, Andorra, that the experience can be a whole lot worse – busy, rushed, confusing – and so I am thankful. I am also very thankful for being in Ruka Village where you can see the main chairlift from the apartment, and there is a private ski locker so there is no need to be carrying your equipment for more than is absolutely necessary. Oh how I don’t envy those who need to get the ski bus each day!
As last year the piste was covered in thick beautiful and well groomed white snow and the runs were quiet. It was definitely busier than last year, but queuing for the lifts was still rare (we were third in the queue about twice…) and we often skied down runs on our own. It did feel much colder this year. Although the temperatures seemed to be similar, it was windier and a bit damp in the air. Our fingers and toes got cold very quickly and on one day we were only managing half an hour on the hills before heading inside for a warm up. It’s worth it, though, the scenery is so beautiful.
Being quite windy the main six-man lift – the Ruka Express – is closed often. We were told this was because in certain temperatures (wind chill) if the lift broke they wouldn’t be able to get everyone off the lift before hypothermia set in. Brrrr! It’s the reason there are so many drag lifts in Ruka – some runs are only accessible using the dreaded t-bar, which we really have an aversion to and have to force ourselves to use them! We absolutely froze the day we got “stuck” at the bottom of the Vuosseli slope without any option but to use the incredibly long O t-bar – not a pleasant experience when you feel you’re getting frostbite in your toes; we avoided that area when the Ruka Express was not running from then on!
The runs in Ruka, as I blogged last year, are not long, but they are so pretty. We are at the stage in our skiing ability where we are skiing reds but not blacks, which opened most of the ski area to us. It really is a place for beginners to and intermediates to learn and practice. Our favourite runs were those on the Vuosseli and Saarua sides of the hill, and over on Masto (although that is t-bar only so we didn’t do them many times). The front slope back into Ruka Village is also very enjoyable – short but steep and fun.
Naturally our winter holiday wasn’t all about the skiing. We booked a couple of activities too – a snowmobile ride out into the Finnish countryside and some ice karting.
That’s right – ice karting – serious power sliding fun on a frozen course about ten minutes from Ruka. We suited up (arctic suits over our usual ski gear – and it was needed) and headed out to the track with the three other couples on the Friday evening. After our briefing we each got sat in our little Subaru go karts, fitted with winter tyres, and headed out onto the ice for our orientation laps. Oh my. Dark, cold, and very very slidey! What amazing fun. There was real skill involved in balancing wanting to go fast and retaining the ability to steer around the tyres. Spinning was a regular occurrence, getting wedged in piles of snow may have also taken place, and screaming “woooooooooo” on the straights definitely happened once or twice! We had a few laps to get used to the course, then about 15 minutes qualifying, and then a race. I reckon I got the second half of the course pretty well sorted by the end of the race, making the most of the kart’s ability to drift and slide around corners with very little input from the steering wheel; but that first corner got me pretty much every time. Ah well, it was on ice, I think I did pretty well!
Having been on the organised night time snowmobile safari with Crystal last year, we decided this time to try a daytime one so we could make the most of the Finnish countryside views. Our Reps were excellent and rather than just pointing us in the direction of the best company to go with, they went ahead and arranged something for us and one other couple. Arctic suits and boots on, we headed out from Ruka Village following our guide along a combination of roadside, woodland and open tracks for a couple of hours. It was absolutely amazing, so much fun, and the views are some I shall never forget.
One downside of going to such a quiet resort is that the taster snowboarding lesson I’d booked for the Saturday morning didn’t run due to now enough people booking on – they need four and only three people signed up. Sadly once it was cancelled I didn’t have enough time to book a private lesson, so I still haven’t tried snowboarding. I’m going to have to put some effort into booking a lesson at SnoZone in the summer!
Returning for a Third Time?
We really have fallen in love with Ruka. It is one of those magnificently beautiful places that I would return to in a flash if I have the opportunity. A quiet, calm and stunning place to both ski and relax, yes it’s cold but it’s well worth it. There is lots to do away from the slopes, and the Village provides plenty of opportunities for eating and socialising without being rowdy. It is a great place for couples, families and groups of friends, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone. But don’t all go at once… it would be a shame for it to become crowded!
We will definitely be returning to Ruka at some point; perhaps not for a couple of years as the yearning to try other places has gotten too strong, but sometime.