Best Of Travel

Stephen Bailey
Discover two great ways of exploring the Arctic
Discover two great ways of exploring the Arctic
Stephen Bailey

I’ve had the fortune to visit Arctic Scandinavia twice — once in Sweden and once in Finland. And each time my trip focussed on something different.

The first time I was all about the huskies.

I was travelling with my girlfriend, and she really wanted to experience the huskies and the ice hotel. This was in Arctic Sweden, and one of the first shocks — other than the temperature, because it really is cold — was that being in winter, there’s not much daylight.

It’s quite strange to be staying in a hotel on holiday, and it’s still dark at 10 in the morning. The hotel is calling to say, “Hey breakfast will be finishing soon” and because it’s a holiday, you want to sleep in — but with no light coming into the room it’s easy to just keep sleeping in.

So the first thing I discovered was that when you go into the Arctic in winter, when it’s beautifully snowy, the timing is crucial.

You have to maximize those hours of daylight. You need to make sure that the guides are picking you up so you can be out and about all those daylight hours, because you don’t have too many.

Where you can hear your thoughts

One hour on a husky ride is quite nice. But the wonder of the experience for me came by being with the huskies for four or five hours.

You go and meet the beautiful huskies, you hug the dogs, and it’s lovely. They’re all very friendly and warm. Meeting them is as you may imagine it, especially if you love dogs.

And after that, that’s when the experience really started for me. Because these are working animals. They set off with such enthusiasm, such professionalism, such skill — it’s like they just know exactly where to go. (But of course this isn’t true. They are being driven very skillfully.)

During the first half an hour I watched the world go by — skirting forests, travelling across icy lakes, feeling the wilderness, the solitude, and mostly the silence.

The great thing with the huskies is that there is no noise. You can hear your own thoughts.

And 30 minutes into the ride, I started to feel everything in my mind slipping away. There was a clarity, a lack of stress. I felt space opening up in my head — that space which is filled with everyday things day after day, and which is never really empty because there’s too much to think about.

And in Arctic Sweden, just cruising across with the huskies, that space opened up, so that after a while I was not just immersed in the beauty of the landscapes, in the silence and the connection with the huskies and the Arctic world — I was also relaxedly lost in my own thoughts.

After a couple of hours, we took a stop. We had warm berry juice and some food. We tended to the huskies. Honestly, I cannot tell you where it was because I don’t remember the name.

Actually I don’t even remember if that place had a name. We were just out in the Arctic — with the guides and the huskies.

From there, we went back. We spent a night in the ice hotel, and did other things — such as going out at night to look for the northern lights. That’s another highlight of being there in winter.

When you are creating the tracks

Then, the second time I had an opportunity to go to the Arctic, I wanted to go on the snowmobiles. I wanted the big snowmobile, and to go out off-roading — cruising through the peace, going across virgin snow, crossing frozen lakes.

And not just for a day. I wanted to do multiple days on the snowmobile and have a really wild Arctic experience — sleeping in a cabin along the way, lighting the fire, using the traditional sauna.

Of course, I found out that snowmobiles are quite different from husky-drawn sleds. Because with the snowmobiles, you can cruise along, but it’s like driving a high-powered motorbike. You’ve really got to concentrate. These are powerful machines and you’re in places with no roads, no tracks.

You’re creating the routes. You’re creating the tracks. You are finding obstacles in the wilderness, including animals and big chunks of ice. You are finding out which way to go — how do you go through this forest? So it was definitely not a time when there was space to be lost in my own thoughts.

Besides, I’m not a very skilled motorbike rider, and I’d never been on a snowmobile before. It took me some time to get used to it, especially the power that it had. So the actual riding was thrilling, but also a bit tiring. After we stopped for the day, I felt that I had done a workout.

But at night I did have that solitude and silence.

Because the great thing about being on the snowmobile was the opportunity to stay in cabins completely in the middle of nowhere. We went to places that are not accessible by any road — they’re not accessible unless you ride for four or five hours on a snowmobile.

So, riding with huskies and riding a snowmobile are very different experiences — but both are brilliant, amazing.

And both are more than just an attraction. You are not than just going on an expedition — you are experiencing a way of life.

Because you speak with the guides, and you realize that the people who live there do this every day. They were doing it when they were four years old. They’ve been doing it their entire lives. That’s just how they get around, that’s how they live.

So this is not just an adventure, but also a way of connecting with people and life in the Arctic.

By Stephen Bailey. Edited by Beatriz Becker.

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