Taking the kids to meet Santa in Lapland is on most parents’ bucket list, and from personal experience I’d say it deserves to be a good 50 places higher than a trip to Florida or any other of those sweaty plastic places.
The good news for the skiing-obsessed is that you can actually enjoy a very nice ski holiday in Lapland in December, and you’ll find you have the slopes largely to yourself as most Finns don’t bother hitting their own slopes until it’s a bit lighter and warmer as we head towards spring.
You’ll also find that most of the people on your flight over are just there to meet Santa and have no plan to clutter the slopes up for you themselves; be prepared to be entertained by people arriving in skimpy summer wear and stilettos, cursing the sub-zero temperatures having apparently failed to read the “Well, this is the Arctic Circle…” warning notes from their tour operator, as you step out gleefully in your cosy thermals under several layers and a weatherproof shell.
Lapland is a surprisingly big seller for British tour operators considering there’s almost no daylight in mid-December. It can get down to -10°, sometimes -20° or more, and the ski slopes are, on the whole, fairly tame compared to the big results in the Alps.
But those of us who love Lapland quite enjoy skiing under the floodlights as the powder snow falls incredibly fine and light, while hoping it stops every now and then so we can get a glimpse of the Northern Lights. There’s a wild, free nature in the air here that’s unlike anything down in the Alps, and bouncing through the snow in the half-light has a wonderful dream-like quality.
Well, that’s how I feel – I know some people just think it’s cold and boring.
Most people who visit Lapland go for an adventure more than just to ski. There’s Santa to meet, of course, which I’ll discuss in more detaail shortly, but there are also activities like dog sledding and a reindeer safari (riding in a little sleigh behind a reindeer) as well as more high-adrenaline options like snowmobiling. All of these can be tackled by complete novices and you can fine-tune your experience from fast group experiences of a few hours to full-day excursions where you really get to grips with your dog sleigh, master your reindeer, or clock up some distance in your snowmobile.
But most important: Santa. You will be surprised, perhaps shocked to hear that Santa manages to maintain several properties in Lapland with each conveniently close to one or more of the ski resorts you can book a holiday to.
Having tried three with different children, I can confirm that the experience does vary, but probably parents notice this more than the children.
My favourite was Santa’s Secret Cottage close to ski resort Ruka, which has a very genuine feel to it. Your visit may begin with a bit of sledging by the frozen lake, then perhaps cooking a few sausages over a campfire with the elves before you head indoors to meet Santa, learn a bit of Lappish, bake some gingerbread cookies you all make together then sing a few songs before it’s time to leave.
Some of Santa’s other hangouts I visited had something of the magic but were a bit more theme park and a bit less authentic feeling; but I didn’t try them all and they were all still good.
Skiing With Santa
The UK’s two largest tour operators cover seven of Finland’s biggest resorts between them, with both offering most. Levi is the biggest ski resort in Finland but three more destinations in the brochures aren’t a lot smaller: Pyhä, Iso-Syotë, Ruka and Ylläs. Salla and Saariselka have rather more limited skiing.