Posts tagged winter
Back in January LincsGeek and I spent a fabulous week in Ruka, Finland, where we enjoyed some amazing scenery and lovely ski runs. [Read about the trip here.] The thing about Ruka that we really liked, apart from the fact that we often had runs to ourselves, was that it was more than just a ski holiday. It was a winter holiday – the landscape and location meant that there was so much more to enjoy thank simply hurtling down the slopes over and over again.
We booked two excursions through Crystal Ski when we booked our holiday – two things that we didn’t want to miss out on. Booking with your holiday makes sense really; first it means you’ve paid for the activities before you arrive on holiday so it’s easier to budget and you don’t use up those Euros on your first day, and it also means that should activities get booked up you have your place firmly secured. We chose two things from my big list to take part in – a snowmobile ride one evening, and a husky farm experience and sled ride.
Night Snowmobile Safari
Snowmobiles, or Skidoos, are very well catered for in Ruka. With over 500km of free-to-use snowmobile runs through forests and open landscapes you could spend a whole week exploring; but we decided to book a group safari style excursion as an introduction to riding the machines.
The snowmobiles we had were something like 700cc machines – they will easily carry two or maybe even three people and reach very high speeds. LincsGeek and I had one each, of course, and after some very quick instruction (this is the accelerator, this is the kill switch) we lined up in a row of about ten or 12 snow mobiles for our guided tour around Ruka. It was 7.30pm in the evening and pitch black, we were dressed in so many clothes (suits over our ski suits, gloves over gloves) due to the -29 degrees Celsius temperatures, and could not wait to get going. The line of bikes snaked along dedicated tracks, through trees, over hills and across lakes. To be honest I had no idea when I was going over a field or over a lake, it’s very difficult to tell the difference when there is that much snow!
Speed was controlled with a squeeze handle which was very responsive. The route we took wasn’t all flat and straight, there were some sharp bends (lean!) and some fun steep ascents and descents which added to the excitement. The snake line did mean the speed was generally kept down but there were opportunities to play about with the throttle and feel the cold wind on my face. I found myself leaving a nice big gap so I could see what the engine was made of, and I know LincsGeek did the same.
Sadly the Northern Lights weren’t out to play that evening – it would have been our best chance of the week to see them, but that would have been an added bonus of what was already a really fun way to spend a few hours. If you ever have the opportunity I would highly recommend taking a Skidoo out for a spin – seriously good fun, a proper buzz, and a great way to see the landscape away from the ski runs. Next time we go (there will be a next time) we will either book the day time safari or just hire a couple of snowmobiles for an afternoon.
Husky Farm Visit
On the Saturday we spent an afternoon out on a Husky farm close to Ruka Village. The main reason for choosing this one was to have a go on a Husky sled, naturally, but this was much more than that. We took a quick ten minute coach ride to a local Husky Farm (the Finnish know how to drive in the snow!) where they keep over 200 working dogs.
Husky sleds are very simple and traditional. Made from wood, they have two skis underneath, a tall handle at the back to hold on to, a large canvas sling for your gear (or partner!), and a metal brake mechanism. After some quick tuition (stand on the skis to move, stand on the brake to slow down, jump on the brake with all your weight to stop but be prepared to keep going anyway!), we went and met our dogs. Our sled had six Huskies that were absolutely raring to go – they knew what they were doing even if we didn’t! The two at the front were the leaders, trained to follow instructions (or the sled in front in this case) and give the sled some speed. The two at the back are trained for strength – they are the ones who get the sled going, the pullers. And the two in the middle were there to assist with both strength and speed. They did not need any encouragement to get going at all, but did need an awful lot of strength to get them to stop!
We did a 5km route around some sled runs on fairly flat terrain, getting up to speeds of around 30kph we were told. LincsGeek took the sled first and I sat inside, and then we swapped over half way around. It was absolutely amazing. So smooth. Quite fast. Really easy to steer. We were told that thanks to around 30cm of fresh snow the previous night the runs were nice and even and fairly slow, but they still felt quite fast to us.
Once we returned our dogs to the farm we were introduced to some of the new arrivals – it was great to be able to play with some of the puppies. We were given some information on how the dogs are trained and looked after, and had plenty of time to ask questions and learn as much as we wanted to about the farm and the dogs and the sport of Husky sledding. The experience finished with hot sausages, muffins and tea in their hut.
It was a really fantastic afternoon that I definitely want to repeat sometime. (Note the photos are all a bit rubbish as it was so very cold!) Those dogs are amazing. You can book full day safaris too which look like great fun, although we were warned against the week long Husky Sled Safaris as they are apparently lots of hard work and you get very very cold!!
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.
LincsGeek and I are fairly new to the skiing game. We went on our first ski holiday just three years ago after some ski lessons at snozone. Before that first holiday we kitted ourselves up as cheaply as we could – we wanted good quality at low cost, and so bought coat, pants, gloves, socks and thermals in the sales and at discount stores. Skiing is expensive, and you can spend a fortune on kit if you wanted to. I want to, there is so much fabulous kit about, but can’t warrant it.
So when The North Face offered me one this season’s jackets for our trip to Finland I was delighted. You already know I like The North Face as a brand, I find their clothing fits me nicely and their shoes are comfortable. And I love my down slippers! But they are a technical brand with very high price points.
This is the Honee Snugs Delux Parka, and as soon as I saw it I knew that this was exactly my kind of coat. Just look at the colour for a start, the muted green (Boyce Green) is just lovely, so much better than the (boring) black of my existing ski coat. And it just looks comfortable and warm. I couldn’t wait to try it out.
A military-style parka offering skiers and boarders serious protection from the elements. This longer-length jacket is built with Heatseeker™ synthetic insulation, ensuring a warm ride whatever the weather. An adjustable hem system, adjustable cuffs and powder skirt provide a secure and comfortable fit. When the holiday is over, convert the parka into street wear by removing the powder skirt and unzipping the hood down the centre to reveal long-pile fleece lining. Core zip-vents help to prevent overheating when pounding the hill or park. Chest, hand, wrist and media pockets provide ample storage for all necessities. Created to look effortlessly stylish, The North Face Women’s Honee Snugs Delux Parka is street cool for the mountain and beyond.
I was a little worried about the length – this is a long line ski coat – and as I am short it could have looked silly and restricted my movement. I think you’ll agree though that it looks great on (I hope you agree!) and thanks to the shorter front and longer back I can move my legs about with no trouble at all. Actually that lower bit at the back is genius – it was just right to sit on when I was on chair lifts, which made a big difference to keeping me warm on the way up to the top of the slopes. There was plenty of room under the coat for me to layer up (I had the medium); while this coat has a feminine cut it isn’t tight.
I could tell this coat had been designed for winter sports. The large goggle pocket, the internal phone/mp3 player pocket with hole for the headphone wires, the powder skirt, the sleeve pocket in exactly the right place for your lift pass – all make this coat very useful on the slopes. That sleeve pocket even has a glasses cloth attached, which was a very useful feature, and the long toggles on the zips mean you can use them with gloves on. The two pockets at the front are massive – I could easily fit my wallet and some chocolate in one and my camera in its case in the other – and those little hand warmer pockets half way up were also useful for my poor cold fingers.
All the pockets aside, the whole point of a ski coat is for it to keep you warm and dry. And it did. Thankfully. The insulation did its job and I stayed totally dry for the whole holiday and in all the weather conditions Finland threw at us. The main zip has a flap over the top to stop wind and moisture getting through, and it does right up over your chin which helped keep my neck warm and dry. I think it goes without saying that I wore this coat over the required thermal layers, and needed a neck tube too, but it definitely went a long way to keeping my body warm and comfortable. I was very thankful for such a good quality coat when it was -22 and blowing a gale in the middle of the day. I wonder if the addition of comfort cuffs would have helped keep my hands any warmer – LincsGeek has them on his ski coat and I like the idea, they stop snow going up the sleeves and fit underneath his gloves adding a layer to his wrists.
[I will never make a model, but we had a great laugh taking these photos at the bottom of the Ski Jump in Ruka, Finland... below shows what happens when you run in the snow and it suddenly gets a lot deeper!]
This coat isn’t just for wearing on the slopes. The North Face has designed this for casual wear at home too, and you may have seen me sporting around and about quite a lot since we got home. The powder skirt comes out, the hood zips down the middle leaving it flat on your back, and you are left with a very nice parka style coat for everyday winter wear. The double zip is also very useful when wearing this coat casually – it means you can unzip it a little bit when you’re sat in the car driving.
I think you can tell that I really like this coat. I love the style, I really love the colour, and the fact that it’s great for the slopes and in town is perfect. It also fits well and is flattering – it’s not too bulky. This has become my “go everywhere” jacket, fit for all my winter activities. As for whether it’s worth the £260 price tag to be honest I really don’t know – I am not and probably will never be in the position to spend that much on any item of clothing, and so have nothing to compare it to. I know that with outdoors gear you get what you pay for and it is certainly superior to the ski coat I bought a few years ago, as well as my other winter coat. It has immediately become my coat of choice when heading out in the cold, wet and snow, and I think that is down to the design and quality.
Bloggers have been invited to take part in a competition to win some Surfdome vouchers… well considering Surfdome sell exactly the kind of gear I like to wear it would have been rude not to!
To enter you have to create a wishlist worth £250 and post about it on your blog. Here’s me…
Yes – that’s ‘me’ stood on the mountain in Arinsal, Andorra, enjoying some winter fun. And I can’t wait to get back to the mountains, this time we’re heading to Ruka in Finland where it is supposed to get very (very) cold.
Now the jacket itself in that silly picture above is worth more than £250 on its own so that’s not on my wishlist (well it is, it’s lovely, but not for the purposes of this competition!) – what I’m after is the fabulous lime green ski pants (£62.99) and the yellow and grey Barts beanie hat (£19.99).
Those two items come to £82.98 so I’ve got a little left… so you just have to imagine that under my ski suit I am wearing some cosy Helly Hanson thermal pants (£49.99) and top (£54.99), some The North Face ski socks (£19.99) and that I have some Oakley goggles (£39.99) ready for some downhill action.
All in that comes just over £2 short of my £250 allowance – I’d be rather happy if I could hit the ‘checkout now’ icon and these things were on their way to me. I’m actually way too tempted by those lime green ski pants. Hmmmm.
If you are a blogger feel free to enter this competition – see the Surfdome blog for details. The winner (it’s the taking part that counts of course!) is to be announced on 11th December… do let me know if you enter yourself after reading this post.
I have been invited to take part in another Next blog competition. Hosted by Amy Antionette, the idea is to showcase three winter outfits you’d like to wear using Next’s own brand fashion collections.
I love the winter. I love all seasons really but there is nothing more comforting than getting all wrapped up in snuggly jumpers and rugged boots to get outside in the cold and snow. I’ve said before that I’m no fashion expert so here are my three Next-inspired outfits for this winter that I would wear… simple, practical, comfy, warm.
Cities are great places to explore in winter – plenty of indoors places to mooch around and of course lots of coffee shops to visit! I very much like the oversized jumper trend, and here have chosen to go all grey in this one from Next.
Dinner With Friends
I’m not talking of your Christmas parties here, but a nice relaxed meal out with friends where comfort and looking good are equally important. I love this striped jumper dress, if I had it I’d find any excuse. With some leggings and long boots it would be ideal for a trip to Wagamama or Zizzis. I’d even wear a nice big necklace.
It is never too wintery for a walk along the beach. The duffel gilet with hood will keep your body warm while the blue and brown hi top trainers will do the same for your feet. And you can’t go wrong with a pair of boyfriend jeans and a long sleeved tee.
If I win (which I won’t, but I enjoyed taking part anyway), I’ll have a £500 Next Giftcard to spend… if you want to take part too the closing date is November 2nd – don’t forget to let Amy know you’ve entered.
It’s coming up to the end of October and Lincolnshire had its first snow fall of the winter at the weekend…
Ok so the snow fall was just a teeny sprinkle, but preparation is the key to survival, so it’s only right that I went and found my ski socks and got my gloves and beanie hats out of the box ready for whatever the sky has to throw at us in the coming weeks.
For our feet there are endless shoes that are designed to keep our toes warm. I love the look of snow boots, all the big brands do them, they are the ideal shoes for winter. I have recently got myself a pair and am looking forward to traipsing around in them when the proper snow comes (or failing that, when we go skiing later in the season).
Most of them are mid height lace up boots that are waterproof with a very rugged Canadian-style design and a “go anywhere” feel.
Here are some of my current favourites:
These UGGs are extravegant at £219.99 but are a much better boot for the snow than traditional UGGs that might get waterlogged and mucky.
I like the D ring lace hooks on the Sorel Caribou – the sole looks more grippy too for when that snow turns to slush and ice.
I like the height of the Timberland boots and they have a really nice shape – not as clompy as the Sorels above but still rugged and designed with snow in mind – and they’re environmentally friendly too. But I suspect the 32cm calf circumference just won’t fit my legs. Shame because I think these would have been my favourite otherwise.
I have a pair of lined DC Shoes hi tops and they are really comfortable. These blue boots take it that little bit further and are perfect if you like the skate shoe look but want something to wear in the cold winter.
Finally, if you really want to look the part in the depths of winter, how about these Pajar boots? With a warm sheepskin lining and a very thick lugged outer sole, these will get you through the winter season for sure! I love them. If I lived in Canada or Colorado I’d definitely own a pair, they’re fab!
Until we head into the next ice age I reckon I can only warrant one pair of snow boots in my shoe collection, and my KEENs will do the job perfectly well this year.