Saariselkä, a brief guide
Trip Start Feb 08, 2009
6Trip End Feb 16, 2009
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When we arrived Lorna pointed out important landmarks on a hand-drawn map, then completely confused everyone (including Ari the driver) in her attempt to orientate it to the ground. Eventually, we manage to find our own bearings to navigate around the resort.
Saariselkä is billed as the most northerly alpine skiing resort in Europe, and the training grounds of the national cross-country skiing team. Although nowhere near as high altitude as resorts in the Alps or the Rockies, the latitude (approximately 68º North) guarantees snow for several months of the year. To the east of the village lie the fells of Kaunispää (437m) and Iisakkipää, where the alpine ski centre is based. The fells have the rounded profile, with a flattened top and steep sides, of many of the hills in Scotland. Several slopes are floodlit, to encourage skiers in the long polar night, which occurs between late November and early January. For much of the month, only twilight is experienced, with the sun not rising about the horizon for around 30 days.
The resort is the centre of a network of over 240km of cross-country routes, including 34km of floodlit trails. Looking at the map for a wider view, these trails link to national trails, criss-crossing Finland, and even crossing the borders into Norway and Sweden. It also seems that crossing into Russia is seriously discouraged, they don't appear to like people strolling (or skiing) across their frontier.
Russia is very close to Saariselkä, the border lies about 30km as the crow flies to the west, across the Uhro Kekkonen National Park. Checking the BBC weather forecasts before we left, looking at Murmansk was better for predicting conditions in Saariselkä that looking at Helsinki. We're closer to the Arctic Ocean than to the Baltic.