Winter Activities

Chasing the Winter Sun in Finland

Way up in Northern Finland, approximately 185 miles above the Arctic Circle line, and about 30 miles from the Russian border, lies a small town named Saariselka in the region of Lapland. Saariselka is Europe’s most northern resort town and is known for its large hilly landscapes and clean air. A five minute walk from the village center brings you away from the lights of the town and into the peace of the wilderness. The town itself has 300 permanent residents and even though there are many visitors, the town continues to hold a peaceful, serene feeling. Winter in Finland is definitely a special and unique experience.

Weather and the Region

The region has six weeks of uninterrupted sunlight in June/July, and six weeks of darkness in December/January. On our first day, the sun rose at 10:38am and quickly set at 2:04pm totaling 3:26 hours of sunlight! The amount of sunlight at this time quickly increases through the month and by the end of January the region will be up to 5:35 hours of sunlight.

The week we visited Saariselka they were having a ‘warm’ week of weather with temperatures ranging from 7-25 degrees F. Typically the temperatures are coldest during January and range from -20 – 14 degrees F, though a couple of years ago it got down to -63 F! Obviously, we packed many many layers, plus our typical ski gear. While walking around the town we took notice of the fresh crisp air and saw that snow covered every surface. It undoubtedly was a winter wonderland.

Getting There

It was a little bit of a process getting to Saariselka. We flew into Helsinki, then connected on a flight to Ivalo. Next, we took a 30 minute bus ride (that had been waiting at the airport for our flight) to Saariselka. The bus dropped us off in the “center” of town, which was about a 10 minute walk from the cabin we had rented with our friends (another couple and their one year old).

In the town are restaurants and a grocery store. The restaurants serve typical Finnish cuisine highlighting reindeer and salmon. We arrived late the first night, but the next day we walked into town and bought some local food at the supermarket to take back for lunches and a few dinners.

Reindeer Sleigh Ride

Our first activity was a reindeer sleigh ride through the woods of Lapland, about ten minutes from Saariselka. With two people per sleigh we slowly went through a path in the woods with the moonlight shining our way. The guide who led the reindeer was a member of the Sami people, a rich culture with an interesting history that stretches over the Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish Lapland. This group of people are trying to preserve their culture and small community as much as they can. It was so interesting learning more about them. After our ride we were invited into a typical Sami “hut” and drank warm gooseberry juice next to the campfire. We were also fortunate to hear an old Sami song that was sung by our guide.

Husky Safari

The next day Jon and I left for our second Arctic adventure – a husky safari! We were taken to a ranch where the barking of enthusiastic dogs welcomed us at the start. The head musher talked about the life and training of the Alaskan Huskies, which are better suited to run and pull longer distances than Siberian Huskies. Before leaving we were given instructions on how to control the sleds, which we rode in pairs. For two hours the dogs ran and pulled us through the woods, up and down hills, and around tight curves. Whenever we would stop the dogs would start barking and howling, anxious to get going again. After our rides we met our team of dogs and had a chance to look around the ranch. In total they have 106 huskies, all eager to run!

We were then led into a snow covered hut equipped with a fire stove and set tables. We were welcomed with a mug of hot gooseberry juice and a large bowl of reindeer and vegetable stew. It was just what we needed to escape the cold and warm up.

Search For the Northern Lights Via Snowmobile

After a quick hour of rest, we headed out for the night for our next excursion, a search for the Northern Lights by snowmobile. With the moonlight flowing down, we drove the snowmobiles through snow covered forests, and over treeless fells, stopping a few times to look at the sky. We drove to an igloo site where we were given hot chocolate and grilled sausages. While we didn’t see the Northern Lights on this adventure, we had an amazing time driving about 25 miles on this Lapland adventure.

The Northern Lights

After getting back to the cabin we opened a bottle of wine to warm up. Since it was a fairly clear night the boys decided to go for a walk to see if the Northern Lights would make an appearance. I just couldn’t bring myself to go back outside in the cold at 12:30am! However, after walking around for an hour and feeling defeated, the boys saw a faint green light in the sky. The clouds soon moved and this is what they were surprised with…

Eating, Drinking, Relaxing

Besides our excursions we spent a lot of time relaxing and eating! We walked and played in the snow, sampled the Finnish cuisine, and spent time in front of the fireplace drinking hot chocolate with peppermint liquor. We loved this vacation and are so happy that we were able to spend part of our winter in Finland!

Chasing the Winter Sun in Finland Read More »

Skiing the Sunny Slopes in Chamonix, France

Skiing the Sunny Slopes in Chamonix, France

Skiing in Chamonix, France has been something we’ve wanted to do for a long time. Like Zermatt, it is consistently in the top 10 lists for ski resorts around the world. The town of Chamonix is a true mountain town, surrounded by the towering French Alps, and catering to winter sports enthusiasts. Lying in the shadow of Mont Blanc, the highest of the Alpine peaks, Chamonix is in the Rhone-Alpes region and is in a “corner” of Europe consisting of France, Italy, and Switzerland.

Strolling the Streets of Geneva

We flew into Geneva, which is about an hour away from Chamonix. We drove into the center and decided to explore this international city for a few hours. Almost half of Geneva is made up of people from 147 different countries linking together businesses from around the world. Walking down the streets felt like walking on Rodeo Drive or 5th Avenue; Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and the like, dominated the streets, as well as the prevalence of very high-priced watch brands such as Rolex and Cartier.

We strolled along Lake Geneva, taking in the sight of the Jet d’Eau Fountain, Geneva’s most famous landmark. It is one of the biggest fountains in the world and the largest in Europe. The spray of the fountain reaches about 460 feet and pumps out 132 gallons of water per second!

Skiing in Chamonix

After Geneva, we drove the hour to Chamonix and checked into our lodge. We spent three glorious days of skiing in great conditions; it had just snowed the night before we arrived, and the sun was shining clearly in the sky for us to see. Miles of groomed trails and un-groomed fresh powder laid before us and we were presented with a variety of descents for us to choose from.

Each day we made our way to our favorite lunch spot in the middle of the mountain. We would laze in the outdoor loungers, sip our vin chaud and beer, and chow down on some local grub. One day while we ate, a local band played music which could be heard up and down the mountain.

Delicious Food!

We ate at some fantastic restaurants while in Chamonix. If I could eat foie gras at every meal I would, and I can’t resist ordering it. Combine that with an undying love for cheese fondue and we were all set! Each dinner was better than the next and we left each meal satisfied, but wanting more – it was so good!

Skiing in Chamonix, France was such a wonderful experience. The people are very friendly, the scenery is beautiful, and the food is sensational! Next time we could see ourselves renting a cabin with friends (any takers?), skiing some fantastic runs during the day, drinking delicious French wine, and dipping bread into a never ending pot of cheese fondue. Sounds perfect!

Skiing the Sunny Slopes in Chamonix, France Read More »

Winter Fun in Park City, Utah

Park City views skiing in Park City

Skiing in Park City is one of our favorite activities that we regularly do with the kids each year. And what’s not to love? The open air, variety of terrain, convenience from the airport, walkable area, and the lovely town, make this a really desirable ski destination. Plus, it has a great ski school and daycare, and is part of Epic Resorts so you if you have an Epic pass you can use it here.

Getting there

We fly into Salt Lake City airport, which is about 35 minutes away from Park City. This means that we can potentially ski the same day we fly in, but we never do. We use the day to walk around town, grab lunch, and rest up for the week. When we’re with the kids we’ll stay in the Canyons. Here they have townhouses to rent which allows for more space. Without the kids we’ll stay in Park City proper either in an apartment or a bed and breakfast.

Skiing the Mountain

The great thing about Park City is that the variety of terrain is endless! Great for beginners through advanced skiers, the mountain has something for everyone. You don’t even have to ski the same run twice, although we definitely have our favorites. We especially love the mid-mountain dining options.

The ski school allows for the kids to get great time on the mountain with others at their level. It’s enjoyable for them and allows us to be able to ski alone and have some adult time. We do like to have some family days on the mountain though. The kids are in the ski school for 1-2 days and then we spend 1-2 days skiing as a family. We also take a day to do other activities to give everyone a break.

One negative about skiing here is that it can get very crowded. We always visit on non-holiday weeks and have only one weekend day (one of our weekend days is always a travel day). Christmas time and Presidents weeks are the worst so we always plan accordingly. We get there early, we’re in line for the lift when it opens, and we try to get away from the center of the mountain to avoid crowds (at the Canyons we try make our way to Dreamcatcher or Iron Mountain).

Walking Around Town

Park City’s historic Main Street has colorful art galleries, inventive restaurants, bars, small boutiques, and larger brand stores. It’s a very walkable town with a lift (Town Lift) right from the center. The free shuttle bus allows us to go between the Canyons and Park City if we desire. The Canyons doesn’t have as much to do or see in terms of a town, but there are stores, restaurants, and bars to head to (as well as an outdoor bar with fire pit right in the middle).

Other Activities

One activity that is fun for everyone is tubing! Woodward is just west of Park City and it has a large tubing hill. Since we don’t usually rent a car while in here, we take an Uber and head out. The kids have a blast tubing down the hill with their cousins!

Another activity that we like to do is ice skating! There is a small ice skating rink centered at the base of Park City Mountain Resort. There are lights, upbeat music, and it’s convenient to everything in town.

Skiing with kids in Park City can be fun and enjoyable for everyone! We love returning each year and making some great memories on the slopes.

Winter Fun in Park City, Utah Read More »

skis and igloos in switzerland

Staying in an Igloo in Switzerland

While visiting Venice, we met an Australian family who was traveling around Europe for two months. They told us how they had stayed overnight in an igloo in Zermatt, Switzerland. Right away we thought, “We have to do that!” Zermatt is a ski resort, where we had wanted to visit and hit the slopes. A bonus? They have an igloo village, called Iglu Dorf, 2,700 meters up the mountain. After reading all of the material and knowing what we’d be getting ourselves into, we scheduled our stay in the igloo for the first night of our time in Zermatt.

Introduction to our Igloo Accommodations

We arrived at the hotel’s meeting point (also halfway up the mountain) a little early so we could enjoy a nice lunch and soak in the bright sun.

Our guide came around 5pm and gave us instructions. We took the train one stop up, and we emerged into endless snowy possibilities! In the distance, we heard reggae music and saw smoke rising from a makeshift chimney.

We trekked our way to the igloo village, and we were amazed by the little area in front of us. A series of perfectly shaped domes laid before us with two rows of outdoor lounge chairs from. We couldn’t wait to sit there and gaze at the Matterhorn. Our excitement was hard to contain.

The staff greeted us with spiced mulled wine in mugs. We spent the next hour lounging in the warm sun (it was about 5 degrees Celsius, 41 degrees Fahrenheit), watching the sun slowly make its way behind the Matterhorn. Three other couples joined us: two were from Switzerland and one was from Italy (Naples, no less!). We all got along right away and knew that this was going to be a night to remember.

Around 7 we went inside the igloo, which maintains a temperature of around 0 degrees Celsius. After our eyes adjusted to the lowered light, we looked around the common areas. Beautiful ice sculptures and etched wall art seemed to be around every corner. Candles in small nooks illuminated the rooms. There were many areas for people to sit down, with the chairs and stools covered in sheepskins to keep warm.

The guide gave our small group a tour of the rooms, including other available rooms in case someone wanted to upgrade. We were very happy with our “romantic plus” room; the “plus” being that we had a private “toilet.” There were rooms without this, like the standard room (sleeps six and they will fill it with whoever signs up for it) and the romantic room (just like ours without a toilet), and rooms that had much more (romantic plus suite) with a private jacuzzi and sauna.

Fondue in an Igloo!

After we returned to the main area, the bar was officially open, and we drank the hot spiced wine and tea to keep us warm. Dinner was all you can eat cheese fondue… my favorite! I was obviously very happy with this!

The Swiss showed us how to properly eat the fondue. This included getting the “grandma” at the bottom of the bowl (the melted, hard piece of cheese you need to scrape out), and using your hands to take the bread from the bowl and put it on your plate, rather than using your fondue fork to poke a piece of bread from the main bowl. The Swiss also didn’t have other accompaniments to the fondue besides bread, which was totally fine!

Showshoeing Under the Stars

Snowshoeing was next on the agenda. The bright moonlight and stars illuminated the snow in front of us. The tranquility and brightness very much reminded me of my time in the desert in Israel, though about 30 degree Celsius colder!

The guide occasionally stopped and pointed out the constellations. Towards the end, she pulled out two bottles of liquor. One of them was grappa, and she even had plastic shot glasses. High on the mountain, snowshoes on our feet, we took shots of liquor. It tasted very much like slivovitz, which reminded me of many wonderful family Passovers, but with a little less burn. While we took our second shots, we looked over and saw the Swiss couple swigging it from the bottle. We did not join them, although we did think about it…

Later that night, we hopped into the outdoor jacuzzi with the Swiss couple and drank a few glasses of champagne while we talked about different travel experiences around the world.

In the jacuzzi next to us was the Neapolitan couple. They were drinking their free bottle of champagne because the husband went into the main igloo with only a bathing suit on and no shoes (a challenge presented to us at the beginning of the night).

At around 12am, we decided it was time for us to go to our igloo… a long day of traveling, high altitudes, and a bunch of alcohol made us a little light headed. Plus, we wanted to be ready for a full day of skiing the next day.

What it’s Like to Sleep in an Igloo

Back in our room, we quickly became aware of how cold the room was. But we soon felt pretty toasty in our sleeping bags, which were meant to withstand temperatures as low as -40 degrees Celsius. We zipped them up so just our faces were showing and went right to sleep. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the greatest night of sleep on the hard surface.

Soon, it was 7:45 and the guide came into our room with hot tea to wake us up. We had 20 minutes to meet outside, so we fumbled through our layers of clothing and shoes, some of which we had put at the bottom of the bag to keep warm. Quickly, we packed up our backpacks and got ready for the day!

Breakfast was at the hotel down the mountain, and to our surprise we were getting there via individual sleds! Sledding down the same mountain that people would soon SKI down was fantastic! It definitely woke us up a bit!

We arrived at the hotel and stepped into the warm heat that we hadn’t felt in quite some time. A large array of breakfast items lay before us, and we dove right in. We chatted with our new friends while enjoying some of Switzerland’s specialties. It all went by so fast and before we knew it, it was time to go. The train took us down the mountain to Zermatt where we were to start the next part of our vacation.

Summing up our Stay in an Igloo

Overall, we had an amazing, once in a lifetime experience, staying in an igloo village!

Would we do it again? Probably not. Not because we didn’t enjoy it, but we feel it’s something that’s only meant to be done once. The sheer novelty of Iglu-Dorf, friendly couples from around the world, the food, and different activities made this an unforgettable experience for us.

Staying in an Igloo in Switzerland Read More »

skiing in zermatt switzerland

Skiing Sunny Slopes in Zermatt, Switzerland

Skiing Sunny Slopes in Zermatt, Switzerland
Looks like a postcard!

After our unique time in an igloo, we set out to ski in Zermatt, Switzerland. Zermatt is a village at the foot of the Matterhorn, located in the southwestern part of Switzerland and near the Italian border. Snugly set in the middle of the Alps, it has endless character and charm! The air is clear, clean, and dry, and the town gets over 300 sunny days per year. Because cars are not allowed in Zermatt, the town is quiet and not congested. It’s exactly what we pictured when we thought of a ski town in Switzerland.

As we took in our surroundings, we could see houses and hotels with pointed wooden roofs, hills and streams flowing through the town, and shops displaying their homemade specialties for out-of-towners like us.

Getting to Zermatt

We flew into Milan, rented a car, and drove 2.5-3 hours to Tasch, where we needed to park the car.

We then took a seven minute train ride to Zermatt. The ride was beautiful, as we went around lakes and through the mountains into Switzerland. Amazing scenery unfolded before us: small houses perched atop mountains, small waterfalls streaming down the sides of rocks from melting snow, and gorgeous greenery welcoming spring’s arrival.

Our eyes were met with picture-perfect landscapes. Just beautiful.

We set out to Hotel Bella Vista to drop off our luggage. We were in a rush to hit the slopes!

Sun, Slopes, and Sustenance…

Spring-like weather welcomed us at the base of the mountain, and even though the snow conditions weren’t the greatest, we were thrilled to be skiing there.

As we skied, we had panoramic views of the Alps, and we looked around in amazement at the beauty. Over three days, we skied just about every part of the area. On our second day, we skied into Italy for the day and then back into Switzerland!

The food was amazing! Our family-run hotel served a delicious breakfast every morning, and we looked forward to it each time. Specialty cheeses from the area, homemade jams and jellies, a variety of meats, breads, and yogurts with healthy toppings… there was no end to what they could make! They also offered a free apertif in the evening by the fireplace.

But the eating didn’t end at the hotel! We had a multitude of cheese and chocolate fondue, specialty meats prepared in a variety of ways, and many Swiss wines.

What a great way to round out the season by getting to ski in Zermatt, Switzerland! We were sad to leave this charming town. The terrain, the environment, the skiing, the panoramic views, the friendly people, the homemade foods, and of course the company, made this trip very special for us.

Skiing Sunny Slopes in Zermatt, Switzerland Read More »