Skiing, ice climbing, hiking on Finland’s most popular backpacking trail, floating in an ice cold river, a Sauna made from ice and the most delicious food - this is what you can experience & taste in Ruka!
Skiing in the Dark
Have you ever skied after sunset? And I don’t mean alpine starts skinning up a mountain, but skiing after the sun has set and darkness has fallen across the land? Not? Then welcome to skiing in Finland in the depth of winter!
With the sun and it’s light being rare guests between December and February up here in the North you will very likely be skiing at night when you’re visiting. But in case that sounds scary á la “Skiing without seeing anything” you can be assured that you’ll see plenty when you’re hitting the slopes in Ruka in January. The slopes are lit and even if you leave the slope to enjoy a wee bit of powder between the trees you will still see everything. The whole Rukatunturi hill is illuminated as along as the lifts run, and skiing in the light while the world around you is covered in a blanket of black darkness is amazing. David, Nathaniel and me stood several times at the top of the slopes and just being speechless about this experience.
Floating on an ice-cold river
It’s -10°C and we’re putting on dry suits, all over our winter clothes. Everything except our faces are covered in an orange suit and neoprene. Then it’s a short ride to the river and a walk up to the lake, where the stream starts.
Our Guide from Ruka Palvelu gives us some last explanations of what to consider when we’re soon walking into the current which will carry us gently but swiftly down the river. Everything is covered in snow along the shore, and an elk which was drinking from the open river looks full of wonder upon our small group of floating humans. Too quickly we reach the small bay where we need to get out of the river - but happily we have a second float before us! We hike once more up to the lake, walking in till the chest and then just let the buoyancy of the suit carry us down the stream.
I love ice climbing and hence was psyched that this activity was on our programme. We went ice climbing with Outdoor Passion who operate and maintain the Kuru ice wall which is located a ten minutes walk up the slopes from Ruka village. The routes were in good conditions and ranged from beginner to advanced and I had a blast whacking my ice tools into the fine ice, enjoying the good views from further up and of course also seeing that my group enjoyed this activity a lot!
Winter-hiking on the Karhunkierros
I have hiked several times and in every season on the Karhunkierros, but experiencing it in winter is always special.
This was a short hike to Myllykoski which lays along the Karhunkierros and is one of the most popular (Instagram) places along the trail. The rapids next to the all mill with the hanging bridge across the rapids is impressive, and even in the depth of winter you most likely won’t need snowshoes as there’s a wide trail through the forest to Myllykoski. Once you’re there you could light up a fire and enjoy some coffee and marshmallows by the fire, or continue exploring the area.
Ruka has variety of Restaurants which means you can try something new each evening during your stay. From cozy slope side Cafés to fine-dining experiences, there’s something for every taste.
We ate at various places while up in the North and instead of me telling you where to go I’d encourage you to go and explore yourself (OK, we had a fantastic lunch at Hotel Cumulus Resort Rukahovi, another tasty lunch Buffet was enjoyed at Restaurant Rukan Kuksa, we drunk local beers at Hanki Baari and had a Chef cook for us in the Kota above).
(Ice) Sauna (Yoga)
How do you end a day of adventure in Finland in winter? Right, by relaxing & warming up in a Sauna.
On our 2nd day in Ruka we went for the Sauna Tour. It started off with a very nice Sauna Yoga Session. The Sauna was only 50°C warm and we learned simple Yoga poses which helped to release tension from the day.
After that we went for a short ride to the Ice Sauna which was truly unique and had a very nice löyly (steam). Sitting inside of a building that’s made from ice blocks and having a hot stove warm it up is something to be experienced, and I highly recommend trying it out if you’re in Ruka. After the ice sauna we went into the traditional Smoke Sauna and had a peat mask, again a truly uniquely Finnish experience which is well worth trying. After these Sauna experiences we went for a swim in the ice hole in Lake Salonkijärvi, and had light snacks and plenty of water to stay hydrated.
Getting & Staying There
Finnair flies from Helsinki to Kuusamo from where you can take the bus to Ruka. Before heading to Ruka we stayed for a night at the Isokenkäisten Klubi, a very nice Hotel which was almost in the middle of nowhere close to the Russian Border. They have a fantastic Smoke Sauna which we enjoyed and great food, so are well worth a visit. There’s also lots of XC skiing and ice fishing around the Hotel, so if you look a more calm stay consider the Isokenkäisten Klubi (it’s not a Club, despite the name =).
In Ruka our group stayed at the Ruka Ski-Inn and we had a nice room, though I found the breakfast left more to be desired. We checked out the Cumulus Resort Rukahovi next door and that looked pretty neat - no idea on the breakfast, though we had a very tasty lunch there! There’s six more Hotels in Ruka and you also can rent a cottage or an apartment in the village.
The Bottomline is that a winter vacation in Ruka can be as relaxing or adventurous as you’d like it to be. There’s great accommodation options, delicious food, good local beers and a host of activities of every flavour to make your time in Ruka special. While all we did was a wee bit much in just two days if you spread this out over a week with more skiing - because with over 30 slopes and 20 lifts there’s plenty of skiing for all levels to be enjoyed in Ruka!
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