Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Before: very good communication from Exodus. Queries answered promptly. I did need to prompt them to send my final joining instructions.
Detailed trip information on their website, which gives an accurate idea of what to expect, though actual day to day programme is out of date and now in the wrong order (according to Basecamp Oulanka, Exodus has failed to update this for some time now).
If you are nearer Manchester Airport (option not listed as standard; flies from terminal 2), it is worth knowing that this is a direct flight to Kuusamo, which gets you to the basecamp just after lunch on the Sunday (meaning an early start) and leaves 10.30 am at the end- whereas London flights were via Helsinki and got to the basecamp at around 10pm and they left 7.30 am- we ended up being charged no more for this (initially there was £75 extra for each taxi transfer).
Also there was another adult Exodus group there at the same time.
Night before: we booked a room in the nice Manchester Airport Marriott Hotel via Holiday Extras (large, comfortable room) with a lovely swimming pool; food expensive though; and left our car there. Taxi’s arrived on time for our departure (5-10 mins) and came quickly when called on our return (pick up at Departures in Airport). No issues with car on our return.
Flight/ transfer: everything went very smoothly for us. Flight was a charter with Thomsons Airways (3hrs 20mins flight; nb- seats not bookable in advance, no actual tickets).
Pick up taxi there waiting in arrivals- one family who had booked within previous week were not picked up at Kuusamo by the transfer as they should have been. Takes around 3/4 to 1hr.
Basecamp Oulanka: warm welcome from Miriam, our leader for the week, who was excellent all week, very helpful and approachable, good with the kids. All staff were friendly/ helpful.
Nice main block for meals and socialising- log fire and board games (only had time/ energy to play on our first night), and wi-fi (worked fast enough for me).
Equipment store below, hot tub (temperature ok but quickly drops when in use- I enjoyed this every evening), and sauna/ changing room (sauna also ok for my 11 year old).
We had use of plastic sledges for self-directed fun on the slopes around the basecamp on the day of our arrival.
Accommodation: We stayed in a wooden chalet near the main building- terraces of 4-5 at same height and below (2 storeys on a slope). Comfortable, met all our needs. Temperature is adjustable. We were always warm, despite the nights being - 10 to -25; it was nice having warm floors. 2 beds downstairs and wooden steep steps to another bed upstairs with low ceiling/ internal balcony/ no window. Nice view of the frozen woodland outside to the frozen lake near/ below the basecamp. External balcony. Desk, enough cupboards for us, bathroom/ shower room.
Some had a problem with their locks- ours was fine.
Nb- no wi-fi in rooms (not a problem for us).
Food: Lunches are not included for some reason, no viable alternative- they do also sell snacks and drinks- lunch was self-service pots of soup and bread (cost 11euros per person)- they assume you want it the first day if arriving around lunchtime- there is a list to tell them if not wanted.
Tea/ coffee/ hot water out throughout the day in the main communal room- no extra cost for this.
All breakfasts and dinner are included. 2 of us liked all the food; most dinners (usually 6pm) featured fish or elk; 1 of us doesn’t like fish (they will offer alternative/ vegetarian if you ask); breakfasts (usually 9 am) include a local version of porridge and cereals, bread, cheese/ meat/ jam/ honey, yougart.
Equipment: they do provide everything you will need to stay warm and we found everything we needed in comfortable sizes (nb- we all needed much larger sizing than we have in UK; bring own thermal underwear, we used Helly hensen lifa ones which were very comfortable)- to keep with you, they give 2 baselayers top and bottom, waterproof layer on top, merino wool socks, boots (also you can borrow ski boots for the skiing), hat, 3 types of glove, small rucksack, headtorch (ok, not very bright), flask for juice or hot water (leave at reception the night before to refill). When the kids became damp, they were allowed to get dry extra ones.
The only issue is that they need this all back the night before you leave- so if you want to go down to the lake to watch the northern lights on the last night or have final goes on the Kick sleds on your morning of leaving or one last look in your Quinzee, you will need your own warm clothing, waterproof layer, waterproof footwear, and torch.
I suggest bringing waterproof walking socks as well and a Go-pro type camera/ harness.
Day 1: meeting and Kick sleds- fun, use on the road coming into basecamp, kept on rack outside main building, varying heights (the larger ones even usable by myself at 6ft4)- can use throughout week after that, which we did every day at some point.
Snowshoeing in the afternoon (2-3hrs; you get to keep snowshoes and walking/ skiing poles for the rest of the week after this and use for self-directed trips)- guided walk around the locality from the large frozen lake just below basecamp to the Old Mill (beautiful location). Suitable for all ages there- from 6 to 14 on our trip- though the smaller ones did become tired.
We really enjoyed all of the included activities.
We also enjoyed a self-directed wonderful winter wonderland woodland/ river walk on our free day (day 6)- around the Little Bear Trail- highly recommended, easy to follow/ marks on the trees, Basecamp gives an overview map and their are display boards around the trail and shelters/ firepits- took us 4-5hrs/ 7-8miles- frozen waterfall, rope bridges, one short very steep icy climb up to a viewpoint/ rocky bluffs and a series of frozen tarns.
Day 2: Free morning. We went snowing shoeing on the local trails.
Cross country skiing in the afternoon (2-3hrs)- on lake and through local woods to a short slope. After which you could borrow the ski’s and boots in your free time, which we did most days after.
Optional: local woods nighttime story/ information hike (approx 2hrs- much colder, it was the one time that I felt I was at risk of getting cold- I had put 2 extra layers on (5 in total on my top), but really should have put more on).
Day 3: Husky Sledding. 3/4hr drive away. Adult driving with 1 child sitting in front in warm blankets- I had 2 children with me, therefore the older child was driven by one of the guides. Lots of fun, my favourite activity, though too short (around 1 hr- you can pay extra for a full day on the free day- the kids decided they would get too cold sitting for so long). Kids loved petting husky’s after, which were well behaved/ friendly, after howling on our arrival.
Day 4: Ruka Day. Transport included. Reindeer Farm in the morning- short Reindeer round a circuit track; feed the Reindeer in a pen; Sausage, biscuit, and hot drink in a shelter with central firepit while being told about life as Reindeer Herder; old house gift shop- this would probably have been better later in the afternoon.
It meant we were too late in Ruka for the earlier free ski bus to our optional activity- Downhill ski lessons (we had been told lessons would be on the other side of the hill- 15mins away)- we had to get the equipment, then take the bus (we could have got this the other side if we were on time- nb it took 1/2- 3/4hr to get all our equipment sorted out)- not ideal wearing heavy ski boots and having ski’s/ poles with us and our children’s ones. It was too much of a rush and we therefore didn’t get as much time on the slopes to learn very much (around 1 3/4hrs), and didn’t get lunch. Kids and adults are in separate groups near each other- kids learnt faster than us adults did; they both really enjoyed it, probably my kids favourite activity of the week.
Day 5: Free morning. More cross country skiing for us.
Quinzee building in the afternoon (hallowed out frozen snow pile)- enjoyable team activity; looked great once done- there are lots on the lake from previous weeks.
After dinner story on the ice.
Day 6: Free day. Snowshoeing and skiing for us.
Evening (5pm) outdoor dinner and walk to the old mill.
Don't expect Northern Lights- our nights were mostly cloudy, only the last night had stars for long enough and we did get a short display of white pillars/ shapes (hardly any colours)- I had been down by the lake luckily to look at the stars anyway. You can tick a box to be woken if staff see them starting and there are apps which try to predict likelihood (didn't predict the one we did see).
We could have easily done with another week there.