Tucked away in the far east of Finland, just south of the Arctic Circle and only 50 miles from the Russian border lies the town, and region of Kuhmo. With only two inhabitants per square kilometre the population of around 10,000 are spread out over some 5,000 square kilometres, living in the main town or small hamlets dotted between the many lakes.
This is the edge of the Finnish Lake District and in winter the lakes become a playground for all those who venture out. On the edge of one of the largest lakes, Lake Lammasjarvi, stands the majestic Hotel Kalevala, the perfect base to test your balance on a pair of cross country skis, your resolve as you squeeze the throttle on a snow mobile, or perhaps just your circulation as the huskies whisk you away into a winter wonderland.
The hotel is well equipped with a wellbeing department, male and female saunas, traditional jacuzzi and 44 well presented en-suite rooms. The large reception area, with its welcoming log fire and friendly staff give a homely feel, while the equipment room ensures that you are well wrapped up to take on the conditions outside.
I travelled to Kuhmo in January 2010, joining a group of ten other solo travellers from all corners of the UK. Only one had visited Finland before, but undoubtedly most will return. The first morning was mild, minus 16 degrees Celsius, but the lack of wind and thermal suits ensured that the snowmobile safari allowed us all to explore the surrounding region in relative comfort.
Getting a feel for the conditions and landscape we alternated the driving between the two people on each vehicle, and headed out across the lake on a long straight trail for all to get the hang of handling these powerful, yet essential winter machines. To start with all I could think was how beautiful this area was; our arrival last night had been late and the drive from Kajanni had only given glimpses of the landscape as car headlights picked out snow clad fir trees at the side of the road.
At one stage my thoughts sadly did drift back to work, but this was only to contemplate how poor we handle so little snow, and how a snowmobile would have been preferable to my bike on my usual central London commute this winter! The day had started late by normal Exodus standards, the sun not climbing over the horizon until well after 9am, allowing time for all to stock up on the plentiful buffet breakfast for our 10am departure.
By the time we reached our lunch spot, all could eat more. The cold does take it out of you, no question, but the hot soup, sandwich and shelter around an open log fire soon got the blood flowing and drive back to head out into the forest in the afternoon. The trails although narrower than across the lake provided ample opportunity to test your driving skill, but also gave a glimpse into the wilder countryside, passing frozen rivers and animal tracks made by wild reindeer, elk or lynx.
Although many of the inhabitants migrate or hibernate to avoid the winter – such as the sea eagles and Brown Bear – there is still plenty to see. The rest of the week continued in a similar vein, instruction and gentle exploration followed by the opportunity to explore a little further into the winter wilderness after a hot lunch.
The temperatures dropped as the week progressed, touching minus 31 as we huddled outside waiting and hoping for a glimpse of the Northern Lights – that thankfully duly arrived around 11pm. Perhaps the highlight of the week? The debate around the dinner table couldn’t agree, a rough split of votes for snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross-country and dogsledding, and one went for the biathlon that they’d chosen as an optional extra – but really we all believed it was only because they hit every target!
The one thing for sure is that none of us will forget how the warmth of the hotel and instructors kept the cold at bay, and I for one will always remember to lean forward more when on cross country skis. The bruises on my backside will slowly disappear but my memories will live on for a very long time.
By Jim Eite, Exodus’ Product Manager