Posts tagged northern lights
We fancied a different kind of skiing holiday this year. It took us months to decide where to go. We’ve been to Arinsal in Andorra for a couple of years and thoroughly enjoyed it, but we have really outgrown the slopes and felt it was time to move on. With only a week of annual leave left the USA or Canada was not really feasible in our opinion, and places in the Alps can be so very expensive and incredibly busy. We wanted something fairly quiet, where we could ski nice blue and red runs, improve our skiing but not be pressured by busy crowds.
We eventually settled on Ruka in Finland for a week in January. We booked through Crystal Ski at Thomson, who have had all our ski holiday business so far; we find them very professional and approachable as a company. I still like to go into a Travel Agent to book a holiday package – something about it gives me confidence in what I am booking along with physical tickets and all the information I could need. They are really friendly in the Thomson branch in Lincoln and it’s a joy to go in there and discuss our next holiday destination… Obviously I spend many hours researching holidays online too. I actually found the online price was a little cheaper than the quote I received in the branch, so I simply asked them to match it; they naturally obliged.
The Sunday afternoon flight was around three hours from Gatwick into Kuusamo airport. They know how to deal with snow over there… good job really – the runway was covered and the roads, well LincsGeek and I couldn’t always tell where the roads were and where the verge was! The transfer was just 30 minutes by coach – absolute bliss compared to the four hour coach transfer from Toulouse to Arinsal in Andorra!!
Ruka promised to be a different kind of skiing holiday. Located within Finnish Lapland it is something like 20 miles south of the Arctic Circle and around 25 miles from the Russian Border. A quiet but well used purpose built resort with a range of hotels, apartments and restaurants, the village centre is right at the bottom of the main (front) slope. It’s small but has just about everything you need – a mini supermarket, a couple of pizza takeaways, a couple of fast food chains, and a good handful of restaurants serving a wide variety of food. Most of the village is pedestrianised too. And it is all covered in a lot of snow.
You know somewhere is going to be cold when the travel brochure warns you of the temperatures. I mean, this is a ski resort, it is going to be cold. But we’re talking Lapland here. Average temperatures at the time of year we went are -14 in the middle of the day. While we were there we had -22 on the Wednesday lunch time and it dropped to -28 on the evening we went on the Skidoo ride. Wow. Cold. Seriously, take lots (and lots) of layers, and make sure you have ski glove liners and fantastic socks!
The main thing about this part of the world was simply how beautiful it was. So much snow. So much ice. Everything was covered. The trees bowed under the weight of all the snow piled up on the branches. We were told that on the Friday night there had been something like 50cm snow fall overnight in some places – 20cm on the main slopes – which gave us the opportunity to practice our skiing in beautiful fresh powder. (For the record neither of us has experienced powder like that before; we had no idea what we were doing!!)
Skiing (and boarding) wise you have quite a large area to explore, with a good mix of blue and red runs and a few blacks too. There’s a good sized ski school with its own green slopes, and a couple of ski hire shops to get you kitted up. We used the Piste Rental Shop as this is the one Crystal use – we’d prebooked our ski hire when we booked the holiday. It seemed to be the busier of the ones in the village, but there was no wait when we went to get our skis. LincsGeek has his own boots so he just needed skis and poles, whereas I needed boot as well, but I was looked after by a great bloke who got me set up in no time. I always struggle with ski boots; my large legs mean I have a problem with certain boots as they don’t do up at the bottom of my calf. This wasn’t an issue thankfully as after failing with one pair of boots the guy in the hire shop could see the problem (“my legs are too fat” doesn’t always translate well) and without embarrassing me swapped my boots over and I was on my way. We were both told that we could go back and swap our equipment any time if we wanted or needed too, which was a good thing to know.
Slopes and Lifts
From Ruka Village you have the choice of two chair lifts – A and B – that are your doorway to the slopes. You can explore the whole resort by using a variety of chair, t-bar and button (platter) lifts. I don’t think we are unusual in that we really hate t-bar and button lifts, we will go out of our way to avoid them if at all possible, and thankfully the slope map showed a good number of chair lifts that meant we had plenty of kilometres of runs open to us. Unfortunately on the Tuesday the main chair lift – lift N – was closed for maintenance so we had to use a t-bar and a button to make our way back to the main slopes. We did it… but didn’t like it! The six man Ruka Express lift is a bubble lift and so has the canopy that comes down over you to keep you warm (well, warmer!) whilst sat still. The bubble means it closes when it’s windy, which it was for another couple of days, but by then we had worked out other routes around and only rarely had to use the dreaded t-bars! A good tip is to check the slope information on Ruka.fl each morning (also displayed on various screens around the Village) as they update it with any run/lift closures.
Once up on the slopes you are in amongst absolutely beautiful tree lined runs and the most amazing snow-covered vistas I’ve ever seen. No runs are very long, but they are really lovely, some are wide, others are narrower and take you into the forest areas. There’s also lots of off piste to explore, although we’re not quite ready for that yet! The slopes you can see from the Village are all red and black, the reds being perfectly skiable for an intermediate skier (even in the very strong winds we had a couple of days); but to help beginners there is a new green run that winds down the side of the hill to bring anyone less confident back into the Village. LincsGeek and I mainly stuck with the blues (the blues were very gentle, definitely on the green side of blue) and nice reds (a good mix of a little tricky and just fast), although we did both attempt a short black on the front slope which was a little scary!! I think it’s fair to say I’m stuck in the skiing rut that many people say is difficult to progress beyond – but I’m happy with my current limits at the moment.
Our favourite runs were probably the longish blue down to Vuosseli via the narrow Rosa and Rudolf run through the trees (past the reindeer pen), red run 13 at Saarua which is fairly short but allows for some decent speed, and red runs 1, 2 and 3 on the front slope which are actually all the same as they cross/weave/merge. Blue run 30 is a nice way to get across to Masto, although the day we went up to Masto peak was so windy I was pushed back up the hill!
Apart from skiing tree lined runs there is a super pipe and several park areas, a mogul run, and the biggest jumps I’ve ever seen in real life. Needless to say we aren’t quite at the point of flinging ourselves into the air (on purpose!) yet but it was great to watch others attempt and conquer those things. There is also a FIS run down the front slope and it was brilliant to watch a team – Russian – training on that. So fast! Oh and there are two ski jumps too, leading down into Ruka Ski Stadium, but neither were in use while we were there.
The slope maps, as always, are not that easy to follow; the lines on the map don’t translate well to reality, but you can generally see the bottom of the run from the top so it’s not easy to get lost. Quite a lot of the time during our week there we had lifts, runs and vistas to ourselves, other times we shared with just a handful of people. It was bliss! It did get busier at the weekend but everyone spreads out and I don’t remember queueing for a lift once.
But a Ruka holiday isn’t just a ski holiday. It’s also a place to enjoy traditional winter activities and excursions. There are miles and miles of cross country skiing trails and skidoo runs, and a plethora of other winter sports to take part in such a snow shoeing, ice skating, ice karting and so on. We pre-booked two activities for our week away; a night time Skidoo ride and an afternoon at a Husky Farm including a 5km ride on a Husky sled. Both activities were done through Crystal with the local Sufari Shop, and we were really impressed with the organisation and our guides were fabulous. I’ll dedicate a separate post to the excursions soon but I’ll just say here that if you go to Ruka you absolutely have to experience both the Husky sled and a Skidoo – both were absolutely fantastic experiences.
Ruka Suites Apartment
Accommodation wise we chose the Ruka Suites and were put in 37A and we were really impressed. It was a really lovely, well-appointed apartment in the same block as the supermarket so we didn’t have to go outside to get anything we needed. Behind our front door, which used a code entry system so we didn’t need to carry a key or key card around with us (a good idea when skiing!), we had a lounge/kitchen/dining area, two bedrooms – one double and one with bunks, a shower room and sauna, a loo, and plenty of storage space. The brochure said it would sleep four to six (four in beds, two on the sofa), and we reckon it would sleep four adults in comfort (the bunks were full sized). It was very clean and the furniture was all traditional Finnish design – straight lines, very practical. The kitchen area comprised a hob, fridge, microwave and dishwasher, along with crockery and cutlery etc; not very big but it was fine for us and we could have cooked a selection of evening meals should we have decided to! The apartment block had ski lockers so you didn’t have to lug skis and boards up into the rooms, and there was a drying cupboard in our apartment so we could get our kit (most importantly, our boots) dried out each evening. Being a Finnish apartment we had a sauna which was a real luxury, and there was a balcony although to be frank we only used this to look at the thermometer which was attached to the wall! Technology wise we had a television and DVD player in the lounge area which showed a number of English speaking channels, and there was wired broadband which we magically turned into wireless courtesy of our Airport Express which we took with us. It was a very relaxing place to spend the week as we did not have to please anyone but ourselves.
Food and Drink
We did this holiday self-catering as when we worked out pricing we decided it wasn’t worth upgrading to the next level, and while we had lots of plans to cook meals ourselves to keep the cost down what actually happened was we ate out every day! We had ordered the grocery pack for our arrival, which was a good call as when we arrived at just after 9pm the shop was closed and the restaurants were winding down for the evening – it contained bread, milk, cheese, ham, jam, cereal, biscuits, tea, coffee and juice and kept us going for breakfasts and some lunches. We used the supermarket to get snacks and drinks throughout the week, just buying what we fancied at the time – mostly chocolate and jelly sweets.
Eating out in the evening was mainly done in the Colorado Bar and Restaurant. We were going to try all the restaurants in the Village but actually kept going back to the Colorado because the setting, food and service was very good. The menu was traditional American food – ribs, burgers, steaks – with a Finnish twist in places. The first night we were a little concerned as we seemed to be the only people in there, but it did get busier as the week went on (although we never waited for a table). It wasn’t cheap (nowhere was cheap, this is Finland, and it’s Euros), but we ate very well and the food was worth the money we paid. Ruka Village can obviously cater for many more people than were there that week, it was pretty quiet, I’m not sure how busy it gets in the Finnish school holidays.
We also ate in the Rukahovi which was nice but the setting wasn’t as comfortable, and we had the lunch time soup buffet in the Piste Restaurant two or three times which was really nice – all you can eat soup and bread is just what you need when it’s -22 outside! We tried the Kotipizza takeaway on the night of our Skidoo excursion as we wanted something quickly – our pizzas were made and cooked to order in a few minutes and were very enjoyable. The food at the Hillside Family Restaurant (at the bottom of the Vuosseli slopes) wasn’t brilliant to be honest. When we needed to warm up we tended to go into the Piste Bar for a hot chocolate, which was very chocolaty and so good.
Splodz Blogz Verdict
The one question we have been asked over and over again is – would you go back? And the answer is very easy. Yes. We definitely would. We would love to. We had a fantastic week, loved the surroundings, enjoyed the skiing, were able to relax and rest (which is not always easy on a ski holiday!), found the excursions loads of fun, and liked Ruka Village itself. It would be a really nice place to ski with a group of family and friends where everyone’s level of skiing is different. You could enjoy a lovely holiday in Ruka without even putting a ski on which makes its appeal even wider.
No doubt the place will get busier as more of us Brits find out about it and more than one plane a week flies into Kuusamo, but we’re told that it hardly ever gets really busy and there are very rarely queues for the lifts. We are so glad we discovered Ruka.
A polite reminder that photography is all my own (or LincsGeek’s) work and therefore we own all copyright associated with it. If you would like to use any of my photographs please contact me first.
When we went to Ruka in Finland a couple of weeks ago we knew there was a chance that we might see the Northern Lights.
The Aurora Borealis is a natural light display in the sky particularly in Arctic and Antarctic regions, caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the thermosphere. Named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind, Boreas, by Pierre Gassendi, Auroras seen near the magnetic pole may be high overhead, but from farther away, they illuminate the northern horizon as a greenish glow or sometimes a faint red, as if the Sun were rising from an unusual direction. (Thanks Wikipedia for the help with the definition!)
They are considered quite a sight, and are featured on many bucket lists (including my own!) – they are a sight to behold.
Ruka sits just below the Arctic Circle and the Northern Lights are visible from there on occasion. The photo above is borrowed from Ruka.fi website and looks across Ruka village from the top of the surrounding hills. Sadly, the conditions weren’t quite right for us and they were not visible from where we were. Not even on Wednesday evening when we took some snowmobiles out on a bit of a safari into the Finnish wilderness.
We didn’t go to Ruka to see the Northern Lights, we went for a winter holiday, but it would have been a nice bonus. We knew there was only a chance but we also knew that it would probably be our best chance. Now, of course, we want to create a new chance. I think we’ve pretty much decided to go back to Ruka for more winter skiing fun sometime, including venturing a bit further away on snow mobiles into the forests.
But what about this? A friend sent me the link to Hotel Kakslauttanen and it just looks amazing. And now I want to sleep in a glass igloo!
The site says:
Glass igloo provides an one of a kind opportunity to admire the northern lights and millions of stars of the crystal clear Lapp sky in a comfortable room temperature. Based on a groundbreaking idea and years of research and development, glass igloos are a marvel of modern technology. Built from a special thermal glass the temperature inside the igloo always stays at a normal level. It also prevents the glass from not getting white frosted, hence keeping the view clear even when the temperature outside drops to under -30°C. Every igloo is equipped with a toilet and luxury beds. On every evening a hot sauna and a refreshing ice hole are waiting for you.
Wow. What an experience that would be. I love the idea of relaxing in a warm bed, looking up at the sky through the glass igloo like ceiling, taking in the wonder of nature. All those stars, and that beautiful green tint. Can you imagine?
They have snow igloos and log cabins too, and run excursions and activities of course, but I think the glass igloo would be the most spectacular place to sleep. Maybe on the planet. I am definitely adding this to my list!