Hey, thanks for wanting to read my first proper blog post. It means a lot. As I'm sure you read in the title, this story takes place in Finland in the Arctic circle. So, I guess I should give some quick context as to how I ended up in the Finnish Arctic for New Years Eve.
During my last year of high school I met a Finnish guy named Amos who is now one of my best friends. He was an exchange student. I visited Finland to see him that summer, (2019) but I hadn't returned since.
Amos invited me out once again and I returned to Finland this year for the first time in 2 and a half years. This is that story.
The story starts at 5am, December 29th. I was still jetlagged and had only gotten a measly 4 hours of sleep the night prior. After a quick breakfast and coffee we hit the road. We drove from Helsinki to Levi Ski Resort in Kittilä. It's a long 13 hour drive. When we arrived I met 3 of Amos' friends, Juho, Miiko, and Mikko. After chatting with them for a minute we checked out the cabin. It was somewhat small, but we made it work. We went to bed fairly quickly after our tour. We had one day of warm up snowboarding on the 30th before the big day of New Years Eve.
This area of Finland is absolutely stunning during winter. I really don't have many words to describe the beauty of it all and that's why this is, at it's core, a photo blog. I think the photos you are seeing throughout the blog will do a much better job at displaying the beauty of the arctic, rather than my words. To sum it up, the landscape was covered in multiple feet of snow, pine trees, frozen lakes, and rolling hills. The views when you got to the top of the ski hills were especially beautiful, as you could see all of this nature go on for miles and miles.
So, now that you have an idea of what it looked like, let's get into my experience on New Years Eve. We started the day off by getting up around 10am. At this point there was a glow in the sky, but no sun yet. We were only going to get a few hours of light today and less than an hour of the sun being above the horizon. January in Lapland is dark. We cooked breakfast and made our way to the slopes. The lifts were about a 5-10 minute walk from our cabin. On our walk we got an awesome view of the sunrise coming over one of the mountains.
The benefit of having such little sun during the day is that you get to see a sunrise and a sunset within a few hours of each other. We took the lifts to the opposite side of the hill and started shredding. I was honestly on cloud nine that day. There's no similar feeling to snowboarding in the Arctic, with good people, while admiring a sunset. I mean just think about the absurdity of that sentence.
I have had very little snowboarding experience in general, as this time in Finland was only my second time ever, but I was getting the hang of it. I skate and wake surf so a lot of the motions are the same and I was learning pretty quickly. Snowboarding in general is just awesome, man. Gliding down a mountain with a piece of wood strapped to your feet really is an underrated experience. My friend Amos was also starting to get confident by this point and started doing tricks like 360's. I minded my own business because I knew I wasn't ready for any of that.
After a few tricks however, Amos' board gave out and one of his straps broke. By this time it was about 3pm and we decided to head to the bar on the hill since Amos couldn't snowboard anymore. The bars were closing at 5pm because of the pandemic, so it worked out in our favor anyway. Also, who wouldn't want to check out a bar that's on top of a mountain?
This is where things got both comical and eventually somewhat annoying. You see, we were already near the top of one side of this mountain but we needed to get to the other side. The only way to do that was to go up and down a series of slopes and lifts to get there. This was quite difficult for Amos. If you've ever been snowboarding you would know that it is pretty much impossible to maintain your balance while going down a steep slope while only one of your feet is strapped in. Since this was out of the question, Amos opted for using his snowboard like a sled.
At the top of our first hill we had to go down, he told me this plan and I told him that I'd meet him at the bottom. I ended up going first and I was taking the hill quite slow. About halfway down the hill I heard a scream over my right shoulder and then saw Amos bolting down the hill like a bat outta hell while he was sitting on his snowboard. I couldn't help laughing. He slowed himself down and wiped out near the bottom of the hill. I made sure he was fine and then we get on the ski lift.
The ski lift we got on is known as an "anchor lift." I hate anchor lifts. The concept is that you put this bar that is connected to a rope between your legs while you are on your snowboard and then that rope pulls you, so you basically just slide up the hill. This seems easy enough, but if you happen to fall off while riding up, your two options are to walk the rest of the way up or slide down to the bottom and start all over.
Well, spoiler alert, that's exactly what happened. I was on the lift with Amos when he began to lose balance and eventually fell. His snowboard caught mine and I fell with him. We were about 3/4 of the way up, so we decided to walk. Amos took the lead and I followed. This walk was not a good time. The hill was steep, the air was nearly unbreathable because of how cold it was, and my boots felt like cinderblocks under my feet.
During our walk I saw a snowboard sliding down the hill extremely fast. It clipped a skier on the lift and took him off. He was lucky enough to hop on somebody else's lift just in time. My first thought at the sight of that snowboard was "some poor bastard lost his snowboard at the top of the hill, that's gotta suck." Right after this thought I saw Amos turned around walking towards me and I quickly realized that that "poor bastard" was in fact Amos. He told me that he would take my snowboard down to get his and then he'd come back up with both boards and meet me at the top. I agreed to the plan and I handed over my snowboard. I got to the top, waited for about 10 minutes and then I finally saw Amos. Mission success, he had both boards.
After this trial we finally arrived at the bar. When we arrived we met our other friends in line, as we got left behind during our little adventure. After staying in line for awhile, Mikko and I decided to grab a drink in the tent before we got into the bar. I ordered a beer for myself and a Minttu with chocolate milk for Mikko. (Minttu is a Finnish liquor that, as you probably guessed, tastes like mint. It's delicious and even better when you mix in chocolate milk.) The total came out to €17. Yeah, drinking here isn't cheap. We enjoyed our overly priced drinks, had a nice chat and then checked up on the other guys. They got in and we were now behind the bouncer, so we skipped the line and snuck into the bar.
We spent our time in the bar just hanging out, talking, and meeting some new people. The ambience of the bar wasn't particularly calm but it also wasn't anything like a club or disco. Overall it was quite tame. By 5 they shut down the bar and we hit the slopes again. We decided to head down the hill, so we could make our way back to our cabin. I lost the boys on the way down, but I knew how to get back to the cabin so I wasn't worried. The ride down was so awesome. It was dark by this point, but the hill was lit by multiple light posts and a blue glow from the nearly full moon that night. This was my first time during the day going down completely on my own, so I was purely focused and in the moment the whole ride down. Eventually I got to the cabin and funnily enough I ended up being the first one there. I got ready to go out later in the night and waited for the rest of guys to show up.
Eventually, they got back and we stayed at the cabin for awhile. At about 10pm we left for the town because that's where everybody was. Like I said, the bars were closed because of COVID, so everyone was just having a good time bundled up in the street. We met some new people, sipped some beer and waited for the fireworks.
At midnight they went off. The fireworks reflecting off of the white snow looked incredible. My friends went up on the hill to see them, but I wanted to be close and personal. I was as close as they allowed you to get to the area where they were setting them off. They were bursting right over my head, it was awesome. This was a great way to end the day and an even better way to start 2022. Cheers to a new year.