A month ago my son and me went on a father-son winter trip: XC skiing, Ice-fishing and of course downhill skiing was our program for a week, in which we had a lot of fun and got to know each other better.
Disclosure: This journey was supported by the local tourism bureau and partners, but I did not get paid to write about this trip. As you know: I’m keepin’ it real and tell you how it is - I maintain full editorial control of the content published on Hiking in Finland. Read the Transparency Disclaimer for more information on blogger transparency and affiliate links.
Travelling with kids, it can be a hassle. We found the best way to do it for us is to do it in sections with longer breaks in the middle, plenty of comics to read and some candy & snacks. With that strategy the 9-ish hour trip from Vaasa to Ruka went by without problems, and my 8-year old son and me arrived nice and punctual with the Skibus in the village of Ruka.
From the bus stop it was a one minute walk to our accommodation, the Ski-Inn right in the middle of Ruka Village. My skis were in the Douchebag and our clothes in the Arc’teryx V110 Rolling Duffle which made it easy for me to pull all our stuff while my son only had to carry his own backpack. Once we checked in to our room - a very nice apartment with our own kitchen, Sauna and two bed rooms - we went for a walk to the supermarket in the village to get some Müsli and dinner, and as we were sitting for 9 hours on our butts it also was good to go for a walk in the village, and explore more of Ruka, before going to our Sauna and hitting the hay - because we had some full, exciting days ahead for us =)
Or: Getting ready for off-piste adventures
Day 1 in Ruka, and our first stop after breakfast is the Piste Rental Shop in the Village to pick up my son’s skis and our ski passes. Getting the gear is a fast affair and 10 Minutes later we’re outside again, sitting in the Gondola to Ruka Valley my son has a refresher session with Ruka Ski School. We start on the brand-new Rosa & Rudolf Slopes, where five belt lifts bring ski and snowboard beginners to the top of the fenced-in slope. After two runs the ski school teacher decides we will go to the real slopes right away as the young student is good enough.
After an hour on the slopes and having skied down some red and blue slopes it’s time to explore the ski resort on our own, with the tips and advice from our great ski school teacher in mind. The one thing I love about Ruka Ski Resort is how easy it is to explore the different sides and hills of the area, and I take my son towards Maasto, the “Off-the-beaten-track” slopes in the east of the area. There’s substantially fewer people here skiing - and in the middle of January there’s already REALLY few people here! But we like it more silent, and the landscape with the snow-covered trees is here especially pretty, and there’s no-one waiting at the T-lift at the bottom of the slope either.
And that’s how we spent several hours of the week each day. My son is a careful skier, and once we identified his favourite runs we would hit these first thing every day and then ski from left to right and back across the whole resort. We had some short breaks at the various huts or the Cafés along the slope, refilling energy levels with a hot chocolate and some Pulla, before it was back to the chair or T-Bar lifts and enjoy the finely prepared slopes anew.
Night skiing is a thing when the sun goes up at 10:30 am and sets at 2:00 pm, and thanks to very well illuminated slopes it’s not a problem at all to ski in darkness. This is especially useful when a parent still has energy to go skiing while a child would rather read comics at home 😉
Overall I really had a great time skiing with my son at Ruka Ski Resort. I love the variety of runs and how easy it is to hit some off-piste terrain between the slopes. There are also enough easy routes and slopes which see less people, which makes it ideal if you’re there with kids.
Or: Learning to wait for the bait
Besides daily skiing in the Ski resort we also had some other activities while we were in Ruka. One which my son and me enjoyed a lot was the visit to the Reindeer and Fishing Farm Palosaari closer to Kuusamo. We started our visit off with a ride on the reindeer sled, which was a lot of fun and my son got his Reindeer Driving License that day 😊
We continued down to the lake. This was an oasis of peace for me - I’m very sensitive to noise, and over here there was no disturbing noise as I hear it every day in the city. Out here on this calm lake there was only the wind which moved the snow-covered branches, and the occasional chirping of some Siberian Jays. Other than that there was only silence. Beautiful, natural silence.
Owner Mika showed us how to drill holes into the ice, clean the hole from slushy ice water, and then how to move our rods to entice the trout and bass in the lake to go on the hook. We discussed strategies - does it make sense to move every five minutes if you don’t have a contact or should you remain stationary for hours to wait till the fish come and visit you? The answer is, it depends. On the lake, you, the weather and temperature and the fish in the lake.
We adopted a strategy of moving every 20 to 30 minutes, but even after a few times of drilling new holes and trying our best to present the bait in the most tasty fashion, no fish was around to fall for our tasty maggots and shiny baits. Ah well, a good thing that Mika had a back-up plan 😉 After a few hours out on the lake we walked up to the lean-to shelter, where a fire was already burning and hot juice & coffee as well as tasty, home-made treats were served. We sat around the fire, discussed developments in the region and how they affect reindeer farmers and tourism in the area, and again I was left wondering while our politicans make decisions which no one I spoke to wants, and which only benefit large multi-national companies, to the detriment of the local environment and people. I finished up my second cup of tasty coffee and then we walked back to the lake, with new motivation and hope to catch one of these elusive inhabitants of the lake.
Alas, also after another hour on the lake, moving and drilling several new holes into the ice, we had to admit that the fish were too smart for us (or simply not hungry 😃), as we didn’t catch a single one of them. However, my son, Anna-Riitta, Mika and me, we had a great time here on the silent lake, and so we were not at all disappointed when we packed up our fishing gear and headed back to the farm. Mika handed us our Reindeer and Fishing Farm Palosaari Reindeer Driving license, which now allows us to manoeuvre sleds pulled by Rudolf and his siblings, and then we made us on the way back to Ruka and hit the slopes for some afternoon skiing!
Or: Why am I still this good?
The long-time reader knows I love ice climbing but also is likely aware that I haven’t climbed much ice in recent years. The winters have been bad, I have discovered skitouring as a beautiful way to explore the outdoors in winter, and I also don’t have a lot of friends that climb ice anymore.
That all would change during our visit to Ruka, and to top things off my 8-year old son would also get to climb his first ice route! Outdoor Passion Finland, which is run by Jussi and his wife Lotta, took us under their wings and both thought my son and rekindled my love for ice climbing. Lotta and Jussi are perfect with kids, and after we were kitted out with crampons, gaiters, harness, helmets and ice tools we hiked like John Wayne to the ice fall, which is in the middle of the ski resort and a spectacular 35 m high. But before we were allowed to climb, Jussi gave us a introduction to climbing on ice, from foot and tool placement to how to get back down.
My son was very brave and climbed his route really well, and I am very proud of him that he climbed this ice fall! I too did some ice climbing, and surprised myself quite a bit as I seemed to be able to climb the different routes without any issues. I haven’t climbed ice (or rock, or plastic 😟) in the past two years, so it was a bit of a shock that even on the steep route I had no problem with placing tools and crampons, climbing onto smaller ledges, and that there were also no screaming barfies. I even raced up the simplest route and got to the anchor in under two minutes…
After all the climbing Lotta and Jussi took us to explore the Ground-Ferrata which they had built in the nearby forest. It’s basically a track which takes you through the snow-covered forest, through the snow-covered spruce trees 🌲 ❤️ and back to the ice wall. It was simple, but very beautiful and a great experience to go through the snow tunnel under the tree and climb back out!
Or: There and Back again
On our last full day in Ruka we decided to go XC skiing. My son usually goes XC skiing at school, but due to climate change and the ongoing disastrous winter winter we have in Vaasa he hasn’t been even once skiing with school, and as it is also an activity I enjoy a lot I felt it would be a good thing to do. What I didn’t account for was the strong, cold wind which was blowing across Lapland that morning, and which would bring a lot more snow over the following days to the North of the country…
We started again at the Piste Rental Shop where we loaned our XC skiing gear, and then we took the Gondola to Ruka Valley from where we would ski around 3,5 km to a Café. So far the plan. The reality was that the weather really wasn’t very favourable, as we were skiing into the wind and snow, which my son didn’t enjoy particularly much. However, with the promise of a hot chocolate and pancakes or waffles we made it in the end to the small, cozy Café, where we enjoyed our break.
The way back, as these things usually go, was easier. With the wind in our back, and some tasty treats in our bellies, as well as some gentle, fun downhills, we were back at the Gondola Station in Ruka Valley in some 30 minutes! We were also really lucky as just as we arrived a Gondola came in, and so we were sitting down in one of the cabins to get back to Ruka Village.
Polar Night Light Festival
Or: Did you see that?!
The Polar Night Light Festival is an annual Festival which transforms the slopes of Ruka into a colourful wonderland, with amazing light installations all across the village and slopes. It’s always in January as then it is still really dark up North, and definitely worth a visit. As a photographer I absolutely loved to see this Festival, and I highly recommend you take a good Tripod, footwear with good grip and warm clothes along if you plan to photograph them, as it does get cold on the slopes at night. Also take care of the Pistenbullies and snowmobiles which might ride on the slopes at night and prepare everything for skiers and snowboarders! Of course you also can just enjoy the installations when you go skiing after the sun set at 2:00 pm 😆
Being a good parent
Or: Learning to put others first
My son and me, we can be like water & fire, OR then we can be best friends. When it is just the two of us, and he gets all my attention, things definitely are a lot easier and we get along really well. I also am more relaxed, and try to remember to put his wants & needs before mine. For example, if he gets tired or has no motivation to hit the slopes after a while, I usually have a hard time to accept that, but the smart, emphatic side of my brain then tells me to just let him go back to the apartment and chill & read comics, while I continue to ski. That way be both are happy, and skiing (or other activities) don’t get a bad connotation for him, which means in the long-run he’s more likely to enjoy these activities as much as me. After all, we were here to have a good time together, and when one is not enjoying something it’s not smart to force him to do it. With high costs for renting gear and lift passes it’s easy to forget these things, but in the long-term I feel it’s better for all involved, and it definitely worked well for us on this and past trips.
What to Eat & Where to Stay
We stayed at the Ski Inn in the centre of Ruka Village, and had a super-nice apartment. We enjoyed the Sauna every evening together, and the small kitchen was all I needed to cook some simple meals for us two. The Supermarket was a stone-throw away, as were a handful of restaurants and Cafés. There are plenty more places to stay in Ruka for any budget, and especially the brand-new Ruka Valley Hotel & Apartments look like a great choice for families as the Kids Slope are in front of the building!
We ate in a variety of places during our stay, from the new CAMP Kitchen which serves a super-tasty Vegan Bowl and a good kids Burger, to RUOK and Hankibaari which have very good options for people with all kind of diets. We also cooked at least once a day in our apartment, basics like Pesto-Pasta and Pizza kept the food expenses low and were really good, too!
Getting to Ruka
As I have said in the past: The most convenient way is to take the train and bus to Ruka, or if you come from abroad you can fly to the Kuusamo Airport and take the Ski Bus to the village and Ruka Valley. In the winter OnniBus has direct connections from the south to Ruka which are really affordable and a really good option as one doesn’t need to change. On the train you can sleep, work and walk around, and during the bus trip you can enjoy the beautiful Finnish landscape while listening to your favourite tunes. We downloaded the Finnish version of the Donald Duck Comic magazine which allowed us to download hundreds of comics to the iPad, which made for a relaxing trip as my son was reading hours at a time on the bus & train. Also some salty and sweet treats were handed out every now and then, and longer breaks were scheduled in so we didn’t need to stress in case a train or bus were running late.
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