Midsummer in Lapland: Traditional Kilpisjärvi Ski Race

frozen lake in front of mountain
Saanajärvi and Saana fell

Since the mid 1940s in Kilpisjärvi, in the northwest of Finland, close to the Norwegian border, a ski race is carried out during midsummer. While not participating, I visited this year’s edition of the midsummer ski race as a spectator, before continuing a “night hike” in the vicinity of Kilpisjärvi and the Saana mountain. Finally some snow again!

When the German soldiers left Lapland toward the end of the Second World War, Yrjö Metsälä, then member of the Finnish boarder guards, has been transferred to Kilpisjärvi where a new boarder station to Norway was opened. After he joined the customs in the same place he became dissatisfied with his job and instead wanted to spend more time in the beautiful surrounding nature. He decided to change his profession and attended a school to become a sports guide before coming back to Kilpisjärvi. While he seemed to have found his profession, he was unhappy with the attitude his clients and tourists where celebrating midsummer in Kilpisjärvi, where the sun doesn’t set for about two and a half months in summer. So he came up with an alternative that should keep people from drinking all night long: In 1946 for the first time he organized the midsummer ski race in Kilpisjärvi, which since then has become a fixed event until to the present.

This year, for the 70th edition, I went to watch the midsummer ski race as a spectator. I was considering for a while to grab my skiers as well, but in the end I really do not like the idea of competing with others; however, the idea of finally being again nearby some snow helped me deciding to at least watch the ski race. Anyhow, together with the 97 attendees – which marked an all time record of participants – and some other spectators, we hiked up behind the Saana fell to one of the spots where enough left over snow allowed to have an approximately 250 meters long ski race.

While the competitors left one after the other as soon as they had performed their part, we stayed until the end: The weather was fine, the view amazing, and we had anyways planned to continue hiking to the day hut (päivätupa) at Saanajärvi, which is a place I sometimes visited when I stayed in Kilpisjärvi. With full equipment (knifes, semi-delicious makkara, wine, bread etc.) we thus walked to the hut were we were surprisingly alone for the whole evening. The atmosphere was wonderful, as the still frozen lake in front of the Saana mountain and under the midnight sun of the polar day remembered us on the beauty of snow and the unique characteristics of the circumpolar north. With our stomachs filled we continued our way toward the village center of Kilpisjärvi, where we arrived shortly before midnight. Being there, someone invited us to join the lightning of a big fire which part of the traditional midsummer eve celebrations, which we gladly followed. The night in the end turned out to be perfect: First a short hike into a beautiful nature scenery, seeing frozen lakes, crossing snow fields, and meeting nice people to have fun conversations.

Border station
Malla nature strict reserve
Midsummer Skiing
Midsummer Skiing
Kilpisjärvi
Midsummer Skiing
Midsummer Skiing
Midsummer Skiing
Border guards
Saana Mountain
Saanajärvi
Making Fire
Saanajärvi
Kilpisjärvi
Hike around Saana
Hike around Saana
Kilpisjärvi
Walking along the road
Description

Look toward Norway

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