A history of Levi (and why cross country is the new downhill…)

Posted on July 5, 2016 in Inghams Lapland Ski Holidays Ski Tips by Kevin.Holland Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Lapland is a region which spans across Norway, Sweden, Finland and into North Western parts of Russia. Finland is often spoken about as a Scandinavian country and although it has similar landscapes and political stances to its Western and Southern neighbours, it is not in fact a part of Scandinavia. A more correct term for Finland is a Nordic country. The Finnish language is also very different from that of their Nordic counterparts and is derived from a Uralic family of languages whilst conversely the fellow Nordic countries languages have Northern Germanic influences. In area, Finland is a large country and yet it is the most sparsely populated country in Europe. It also has the highest density of lakes and islands in the world and is renowned for an abundance of forests.

The resort of Levi lies approximately 170 kilometres above the Arctic Circle and is part of Finnish Lapland. It is just a short 20 minute transfer from Kittila airport.

Situated some 170 kilometres above the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland lies the village of Sirkka. With an approximate year round population of 600 people this would appear in numbers as no different from any other small town in Lapland. However, when the long winter begins and the first snow starts to fall at the end of September to early November, the tourists and visitors start to flock in to explore the beauty and shear variety this area has to offer. With some 24,000 beds over various accommodations, the place transforms into a winter wonderland and a hub of activity. Even at full capacity the quietness and tranquility of the place is astonishing. The resort that encapsulates Sirkka is known as Levi, named after the large fell that looms over the village and is called the Levitunturi.

This is my 7th time in Levi over the past 13 years, and this season I decided that I would come over and work a season with Inghams. The beauty, variety and my love of the place keeps me coming back and also my love of the place is partly due to my dual British – Finnish nationality. I have a passion for Finland and Lapland and working as a resort rep with Inghams is an ideal opportunity to share it with the hosts of guests that we meet week upon week.

The place has changed dramatically since the first time my Finnish Grandma introduced me some 13 years ago, however they have developed it in such a way that is in keeping with the surroundings and local area. The newly developed Levi provides something for everyone, from the skiers to non-skiers, families, party goers and outdoor adventurers. Whether you prefer hitting the slopes, sitting by a log fire in a cabin with a good book, visiting Santa Claus, searching for the Aurora Borealis or indulging in a drink or two whilst watching one of Finland’s top bands in the Areena night club, Levi has it all.

Santa Claus is one of the main attractions in Lapland however there is so many more attractions Levi has to offer.

The majority of people over here speak exceptional English however they do appreciate it and break into a smile when you try some Finnish (it’s a bit of a tongue twist – I can vouch for that as I am currently learning!). Finns are very honest and do not often indulge in small talk however they are very kind. The saying in Finland is that ‘if what you are going to say is not going to improve the sound of silence then there is no need to say it’. Perhaps this mantra comes out of the solitude, peacefulness and tranquility that this place has to offer. I often stand outside my cabin and there is not a sound, occasionally you hear the hum of a snowmobile as it careers across one of the frozen lakes or the distinct sound of the cross country skiers gripping and gliding through the forest trails, of which there is an abundance. Cross country skiing in Finland is a common mode of transport and is steeped within the traditions of the Nordic countries. Over here you will see children from knee height all the way through to people in their 90s embarking on this much loved activity.

Cross country skiing is a popular pastime in the Nordic countries, it is something that you must try whilst out in Lapland.

5 years ago I first put on a set of cross country skis. I have downhill skied since the age of three and adventured all across Europe in pursuit of the finest pistes and hair raising slopes. However that year, after watching cross country skiing on Eurosport (I was at Uni and studying sport science!) I decided I would give it a go. I would say that I was an accomplished downhill skier and a fairly athletic individual and I envisioned the transition onto Nordic skis (cross country) to be simple….. how wrong was I! I rented my equipment through Inghams at Zero Point and they measured me up and within minutes I was heading to the start of the trail. The first thing I noticed was how light the equipment was and also how comfortable the boots were compared to downhill boots (we all know the lovely feeling of downhill boots against the shins!). I laid the skis down in the tracks, clipped in the boots at the toe and strapped on my poles…..sorted. For the next half an hour I was like Bambi on ice and the visions I had on the weeks leading up to my holiday of skiing like Petter Northug were nothing but a distant memory. I didn’t know the first thing about gripping and gliding, pole actions, how to fall and my coordination was shocking. I struggled through and eventually it started coming, although in hindsight I should have booked in on a course of lessons with the ski school. I skied cross country across the entire week and by the end of it I had accomplished the 19km longer route around the Levi fell. Progress was made and the more efficient I became the more enjoyable and pleasurable it also became. I was just kicking myself as I should have done some lessons, however the bravado side of me took over. For anyone coming to try cross country skiing, a course of lessons is a must. It is great to be learning and laughing alongside others at a similar level and enhances your enjoyment and progression. Learning the foundations initially to develop in the quickest and safest manner is essential and I should have known this as a sport scientist! Alas, hindsight is often such a wonderful thing…

Anyway, 5 years later and through approximately 16 weeks of cross country skiing and a number of lessons, I would now say that I have mastered the classic technique (more linear looking technique), although as with any sport the more you practice and practicing in the right way through tuition makes you better / more efficient, so there is always room for improvement. I now also skate cross country ski which is a similar method to that used in ice skating and is only for when you have got a good handle on the classic technique. It is quicker than the classic technique however it is more physically and technically demanding.

I am now a cross country addict and at any opportunity I am donning the gear and hopping onto the local trail, of which there of thousands of kilometres here in Levi and Finland. Don’t get me wrong I still love my alpine skiing and you will often see me careering down the Levi world cup run or more so lately throwing myself over jumps at the snow parks, however cross country skiing is now my first love when it comes to winter activities.

The fantastic thing about cross country skiing is that it is suitable for all ages and abilities and it has numerous physiological health benefits. You can take it at your own pace and you can see places and scenery that are often not accessible by foot or car. To make the most of your trip out here if you are coming cross country skiing I would recommend one of the fantastic pre-bookable packages Inghams has on offer. Below I have also listed equipment to bring with you to make the most out of your cross country trip:

Clothing

–          Light set of sports trousers (downhill skiing trousers can be used but get a little warm at times)

–          Thermal top and trousers

–          Good pair of winter socks

–          Pair of wicking socks for underneath the winter socks

–          Microfleece

–          Light windproof jacket

–          Snood

–          A Light Hat

–          Liner gloves

–          Gloves or mitts

Equipment & Extras

–          A small hiking rucksack or ski specific waist belt

–          A drinks bottle

–          Sunglasses

–          Food / Sweets (Finnish Sausages are nice to cook on the fires in the Kota’s that are dotted around the trails)

–          Matches

–          Multi tool

–          Torch

–          Camera

–          Phone

–          Euros

–          Trail Map

Cross country skiing is something I would definitely recommend and for those who are a little unsure or who are looking to mainly to do downhill skiing or snowboarding but want to sample cross country skiing then there are a couple of options. Firstly there is a cross country ski taster held every Saturday for complete beginners. With this you get rental for the entire day and get 1 and a half hours of tuition on the fundamentals. Secondly for those already hiring equipment you get one change of your equipment, free of charge at Zero point, so you can swap to cross country skis.

I hope that this information has helped on a rather un-talked about activity in the UK and when you get to resort one of the Inghams reps or Zero Point will be more than happy to answer any questions and point you towards and show you the most suitable trails and lovely stopping points around.

I look forward to seeing you all here and if you have always been intrigued…… then go for it!

Best wishes and happy holidays!

Blog by James Meachin, Resort Representative in Levi.