The Norwegian Arctic – frozen, barren, empty, still – all these things AND one of the hottest winter adventure spots on the planet.
We travel to Finnmark, Norway’s northernmost region, At three hundred miles north of the arctic circle at a frosty minus 25 degrees centigrade, this is the land of the Midnight Sun. This frozen wilderness is home to the Sami people – the indigenous population of the European arctic. If you think winter is time for curling up in front of the fire and hibernating for five months, think again. Winter sports in northern Norway is a challenge like no other. Here in ‘Lapland’ you can go dog-sledding, cross-country skiing, reindeer herding and snowmobiling – who says Christmas is the only good thing about winter?
The best time to go trekking in Lapland is late March or April. Time it to coincide with the Sami Easter Festival. There is still plenty of snow on the ground, but the temperature has warmed up enough so that it’s not so unbearably chilly.
▪ Watching the Aurora Borealis – the Northern Lights – beaming across the frozen Arctic sky as you bed down for a cozy night in your snow cave.
▪ Leading a team of six sled dogs through Sami country.
▪ Attending the Sami Easter Festival in Kautokeino
▪ Stopping off for a hot sauna to warm up in one of the many huts built for travellers to stay in all along the route.
Our arctic journey starts in the northern Norwegian town of Alta, the gateway to Finnmark. We meet up with Roger Dahl, one of the country’s most revered dog mushers and together we head east across the frozen Arctic. We spend the night in a warm hut (complete with a sauna!), then next day it’s time to learn some arctic survival techniques. Roger shows how to build a snow cave, which is essential if you’re going to spend anytime in arctic conditions – that it if you can handle being underneath fifteen feet of snow the entire winter .
In the Sami town of Kautokeino, we attends the annual Easter festival. This is one of the most important days on the Sami calendar and is a chance to see the amazingly bright costumes and religious traditions that take place over the Easter weekend.
With reindeer racing as the highlight, this is the beginning of the migration season when reindeer herd north to the summer pastures.
▪ Before you leave for your trek, read up about winter survival and teach yourself how to build a snow cave. Remember the type of snow determines the type of cave you’ll build.
▪ Always carry a small shovel with you!
▪ It’s obvious that you’ll need to wrap up in warm winter clothing, but it’s important to remember is to layer up. This allows you to remove clothes once you start sweating while you are building your snow cave or cross-country skiing.
▪ The Sami are quiet and reserved people, but that doesn’t mean they’re not friendly. One very important tip for good cultural etiquette is never ask a Sami reindeer herder how many reindeer they own. This is like asking someone how much they make or how much they have in their savings account.
DID YOU KNOW?
▪ The Easter Festival also takes place in other Sami villages, including Kautokeino and Karasjok.
▪ Dog sledding is actually not indigenous to Scandinavia – it originated in the Canadian Arctic, where it was practiced by the Inuit people.
▪ You’d expect that this area, 200 miles within the frozen Arctic Circle to be like stepping into a freezer. Well you’re not far wrong but it is a actually a little warmer than that. Temperatures reach a comfortable –5 degrees centigrade because of the good old Gulf Stream, warm and temperate air drifting over from the Caribbean.
▪ The area around Alta has been populated for some 10,000 years and has long been a metting place for tribes from the coast and the interior. Rock carvings near Alta, discovered only in 1973 depict life in the stone age and are now included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
▪ The Sami people are indigenous not only to Norway, but rather to the whole of northern Scandinavia. ‘Samiland’ extends over four national borders of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. The Sami are one of the world’s oldest races, and because they have always lived in such an extreme climate, their culture is closely linked with the land and nature. Since the 16th century, the Sami way of life has diversified into three main areas – reindeer herding, traditional farming and fishing. Today the Sami people have their own flag and national anthem. The Sami nation has a population of 70,000, 50 percent of whom, live in Norway
▪ For dog-sledding trips with Holly’s guide, Roger Dahl, contact:
Tel: 47 78 43 33 06
Fax: 47 78 43 34 63
▪ You can fly to Norway with Scandinavian Airlines. Visit their website to plan your trip and book tickets online.
▪ Canis Major
A wealth of information about Alaskan Malmute sled dogs.