Last week Karl, Leena and I headed up north. North of the Arctic Circle in fact, to a place in Lapland (northern Finland) called Levi. Levi is a bit of a resort town and has cross country skiing, downhill skiing, lots of hiking trails, golf, a spa, shops and restaurants. It’s kind of hard to believe you are north of the Arctic Circle, other than the fact that it stays pretty dark till about 9:30am and gets dark again around 3:30pm. The few hours in between the sky is often pink due to sunrise and sunset. Also, on November 13th it was something like -20 C! It is very pretty with lots of snow covered trees, big colourful sky and, if you go up one of the “fells” (hill) you get a super nice view of the land and other distant “fells”.
Karl heading out to climb a fell
The pink sky partway up
Leena came along and seemed to like it!
The distant hills
More pretty pink sky
View where we turned around...3:30pm, darkness coming quickly!
The reason we ended up there was partly because Karl had Lapland on his list of places he wanted to see, and partly because we wanted to visit one of our coaches from our Thunder Bay training center days; Toni Roponen. He lives in a place called Oulu, which is about 400km south of Levi. The city of Oulu is actually famous for its winter cycling and Karl was also interested in it and meeting with some people there in connection with his school work. We called up Toni and he suggested when we should come to coincide with his schedule of being in those two places, booked us somewhere to stay and arranged our transport from Levi to Oulu. As usual, he took very good care of us and we had a fantastic time! Toni is the husband and coach of Riitta-Liisa Roponen who is one of the best skiers in Finland. She has something like 21 Finnish National titles, an Olympic relay bronze, World Championship relay and sprint relay medals, individual World Cup medals and 85 top 15 finishes in the World Cup. She is training in Levi for four weeks prior to the World Cup season so Toni and their daughter were up there to stay with her for a week.
Toni is also the coach of Matti Heikkinen, who is a World Champion. This meant that there was lots of talk about the training and lifestyle of two of the best skiers in the world, which we found very interesting. Hopefully we can bring some of what we learned back to help skiers in our area!
Other than socializing with Toni and Riitta, we obviously did as much skiing as we could, made a number of trips to the spa (Leena loves the water and is working on her “dives”) and went for a beautiful hike (see pictures above).
The skiing was on man-made snow and was about 4.5km long (9km out and back). The snow conditions were great and the scenery was peaceful and pretty. There was actually snow everywhere but it was too thin for skiing other than on the man-made part. There were a lot of Russians, Finns, Belarussians, Estonians, Swedes and Norwegians there training. We also saw a ski-orienteering team skiing around with their maps!
Skiing at about 10am
It also just so happened that there was a big FIS race on in Muonio (about 60km away) the weekend we were there. Of course, we couldn’t pass up the chance to do the race so we quickly renewed our FIS licenses and based on Toni’s schedule (he was our driver) took turns racing and watching the race with Leena. Karl did the classic and I did the skate. It was definitely a fun experience despite not having much skiing under our belts yet this year. It was also my first race in a year and a half! Given that, I thought we did a pretty good job and we both enjoyed ourselves. It was also fun to run into Brian McKeever and Erik Carleton who were also racing there!
Karl racing the 10km classic
After my race, we quickly packed up and caught the bus to a town outside Oulu where we stayed at one of Toni’s houses. It was super nice and we got to sleep amongst all of Riitta-Liisa’s trophies and medals! They have also just finished building a new house which they plan to move into, so we got to go there for a wood fired sauna, and smoked salmon. The house is on the sea and is beautiful!
Leena helping us pack.
The house at night
Riitta's trophy case
Running near Toni's house
The trip was capped off with Karl doing his interviews, and both of us getting a bit of a tour of all the different bike paths in Oulu and the surrounding area. It is pretty impressive!
Bike path totally separate from the road
Now we are back in Helsinki. Four more weeks here and then we come back to Chelsea. So far our trip to Finland has been amazing and we are looking forward to another great month of adventures! Thanks Toni for such a great trip!
Toni, Karl, Leena and I.
Interesting Reading. . .