Ski touring outside marked trails

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

Jouni Laaksonen 4.3.2019

I always write long posts, but this time I’ll try to concentrate more on pics. 🙂 Also there is a map of my ski touring a couple of years ago in Muotkatunturit and Paistunturit Wilderness Areas.

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

My route is the blue line, I started from lower left corner. Note that this is no marked trail, and not even a popular area for ski touring. Almost all of Northern Lapland is just very suitable to ski touring, or summer or autumn hiking. If you know how to navigate by yourself, you can plan just the kind of route you like. That’s what I do.
My ski pole is 160 cm long, so you can see there’s over one meter of snow. However, often in early April and sometimes in March, there is a hard crust on top of the snow in Lapland. As you can see, my skis do not sink at all, and skiing is easy. – Well, this was not the case for all of this tour, but I want to concentrate on the easy and beautiful pics this time. 🙂

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

Animal tracks are one of the great delights in winter hiking. Here a willow grouse has left his/her signature.

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

Wilderness hut is a wonderful luxury after some nights in your tent. The wood-burning stove is the heart of the hut: it warms the hut, dries your boots and other stuff, prepares food.

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

Sometimes you find running water, but often not. That’s not a problem, for there’s clean snow everywhere. You just need a cooker (or campfire) to melt the snow to water. Multi-fuel stove with gasoline is the fastest and most efficient for melting snow, but for a one-man expedition also the silent alcohol stove is enough. I don’t want to use a stove inside the tent, but I do use it (carefully) in the tent vestibule.

 

My way of off-track skiing

I have a strong feeling that term “ski touring” can refer to very different kinds of activity. In mountainous countries you most probably use steel-edged skis with sturdy boots and bindings, and skins, eh?

In Finland that kind of equipment is mostly used only by freeriders, those who want to downhill ski outside maintained slalom slopes. Or, if you head to a winter backcountry tour to an area that consists solely of treeless fells, you might choose about two meters long touring or telemark skis.

Myself, I’m not interested in downhill skiing. I do ascend to fells, but not because of a nice downhill, but because of the magnificent scenery. I manage to ski down rather safely, but the downhill is just a minor thing for me.

The major thing for me is to be able to advance in every condition. Be it 20 cm of snow or one meter of snow, be it the hard-packed snow of treeless fells or soft snow of forests, be it a trail left by a skier or snow mobile or untouched snow (and I prefer this), be it the soft snow of early winter or the hard crust on top of snow of late winter, or the very wet and soft snow of really late winter.

Therefore my choice is always long and wide forest skis (metsäsukset in Finnish). My forest skis are 280 cm (or sometimes 270) long and 7 cm wide, no steel edges, no sidecut, no skins.

Anyway, the main thing is that if there is a snowy winter in your country, do hike also in wintertime! Use the equipment you feel comfortable with, skis or snowshoes, or what is required in your hiking destination, but go. I know many enthusiastic outdoors persons who hike and backpack a lot during summer and autumn, but not during winter. Come on! In Northern Finland there is snow for six months every year. Do not miss half a year without hiking!

 

Ski touring in Muotkatunturit and Paistunturit Wilderness Areas

I have a habit of heading out to approximately week long backpacking tour in March or April. Lately I’ve done these expeditions without companions. See also here. I don’t recommend solo winter hiking to anyone who is not experienced in winter skills.

In late winter there’s plenty of light, rather mild temperatures, and often there is a a crust on top of the deep layer of snow, and it’s easy to ski as your skis don’t sink nearly at all. Early winter, from November/December to February, is a totally different world: there can be very cold temperatures, there hardly is any crust, and the daylight time is short. I do like hiking then also, but as a family man there hasn’t always been opportunity lately.

Anyway, here was a selection of pics from March/April conditions in Muotkatunturit and Paistunturit Wilderness Areas.

* * *

Next week I’ll show more pictures about skiing, but from completely different angle: they will be pics about skiing along maintained ski tracks and returning to modern comforts every evening.

 

5 thoughts on “Ski touring outside marked trails

  1. Terve, Jouni! I discovered your blog only a few days ago, but have been absorbed by the articles and have already ordered the book (last available one on Amazon.co.uk). I worked in Finland during the summers of 2008-2010 and fell in love with the country. I still have friends there and regularly visit, about once a year. About the metsäsukset: is there anywhere you know of where I can get some instruction on them, to learn some back-country skiing? Since children in Finland learn such skills very early, finding training as an adult foreigner is not always so simple. I tried cross-country skiing in Ruka a couple of years ago, and despite being tremendously unfit I really enjoyed it. Kiitoksia.

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  2. Terve, Matt! Thank you for your kind words. Nice to hear you like Finland. 🙂 So, do I understand correctly: you know how to cross-country ski, classic style, in maintained ski tracks? If not, then I’d suggest you first get some instruction in that skill, see for example https://www.yllas.fi/en/activities/skiing/skiing-schools.html (Ylläs, Lapland), https://skisaariselka.com/ski-school/ (Saariselkä, Lapland), https://www.suomenlatu.fi/paloheina/hiihto/osallistu-kurssille/aikuisten-hiihtokoulut.html (Helsinki region, the page is in Finnish, but they promise to give instruction also in English, and you can find contact info in English).

    After you consider yourself good enough skier on maintained ski tracks, it’s not such a big step to ski outside the ski tracks. The same style, classic style, applies, though you cannot glide as much as on a track. And the snow below you is uneven, so you need to* choose where to go and you need more balance. (*In my opinion: you can! For it’s such a joy to select your route yourself!) Maybe the best place to go and learn backcountry skiing is Kiilopää, http://www.kiilopaa.fi. Just beside Urho Kekkonen National Park, in Lapland. You can either
    1) participate in the weekly programme, which by the way is free, https://www.kiilopaa.fi/en/services-and-experiences/weekly-programme/. There’s every week at least one guided backcountry skiing trip outside the ski tracks, though often they use telemark skis. You could contact them in advance and ask more.
    2) or, they also rent ‘metsäsukset’, see https://www.kiilopaa.fi/palvelut-ja-elamykset/vuokraamo-hinnasto/, and you can try skiing with them outside the ski tracks on your own.

    Remember two things: skiing outside ski tracks is a lot easier in spring winter, say, from late March to April, than earlier. In (March-)April you don’t sink nearly as much as earlier in the winter – and it’s also not as cold, and the daylight time is also a lot lot longer. And also, if you sink rather a lot in forest and skiing feels too heavy, you need a) longer skis, or b) you could head to treeless fell, where the snow is more packed.

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    1. Thank you, Jouni, for the information and advice. I appreciate your comprehensive answer and the links to places, it gives me something to plan for when the pandemic is over and travel again becomes possible. Your understanding was correct – my previous skiing was in tracks using the classic style. I will probably practise that a little more too before venturing away from the tracks, just to feel competent and safe. I’m looking forward to reading more about your adventures and creating some of my own. Thank you again.

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