No one on the mountain, cross country skiing.
T-Bars, drag lifts, hardly anything open at Xmas
If you just want to ski (alpine/downhill), DO NOT go to Ylläs at Christmas because there isn’t any!
We were there from 18th – 26th December, and during that time the only lifts open on the Ylläs side were a t-bar which went up to a not particularly challenging (and not very long) red, and a couple of beginners’ button lifts which served the nursery slopes. Not being able to see due to very low cloud and virtually non existent daylight was ‘interesting’, but the novelty soon wore off.
The Ylläs Sport side was much, much better, but as the trail over the top of the fell was closed (you probably wouldn’t have been able to see where you were going anyway), the only way to get there was by a very infrequent bus service – costs €3 return I think.
There were still only a couple of t-bars and three buttons open on the Sport/Ylläsjärvi side, but provided you didn’t mind spending eons on the t-bars, you could get much higher up the fell and get a fairly reasonable run in. Also, as there was virtually no one around, there was plenty of decent(ish) powder off-piste and zipping through the trees was quite fun. In the end we decided to ignore all the closed signs and pretty much went where ever we felt like – no one seemed to mind at all, but I wouldn’t recommend it after dark.
Ylläs is a unique place to visit and I would definitely recommend it, but treat it as a winter activities holiday, not just a downhill ski holiday, and have a go at all the things you never get round to on ‘normal’ ski holidays.
Northern Lights – activity is supposed to be very high for the next couple of years, but you still need to be lucky with the weather/cloud cover, and finding somewhere slightly away from all the street lights will help a lot because they’re not always that spectacular/strong. We saw them at about 10.30pm but they are sometimes visible much earlier or later.
Santa breaks – in the run up to Christmas the hotels are full of British families who’ve gone to Lapland/Finland specifically to see Santa and Rudolf, so unless you want to spend your whole time surrounded by hoards of screaming kids, go for a chalet or self catered cabin.
Laino Snow village / Ice Hotel – it’s expensive, but definitely worth booking an overnight stay because the chances are you’ll never get another opportunity and it is a real experience. Arriving (and departing) by snowmobile from Ylläsjärvi definitely helps make it a bit more of an adventure, but once you’ve done the tour of the hotel and eaten your dinner (on an ice table) there’s not much to do except drink and then sleep.
Cross Country Skiing – equipment is either free with your accommodation or very cheap to hire, and the trails outside of the village go through some really beautiful scenery, so it’s well worth giving it a go. I would strongly recommend having a taster lesson (about an hour) before heading off anywhere because some of the ski trails have fairly steep descents and unless you know how to control your speed, you can end up in serious trouble. Also, make sure you buy a trail map and look out for the signs telling you which huts are open/closed – a lot of the trails are lit until 10.30pm but not the ones further away from the village, and it gets dark after about 3.00pm. The maps show contour lines, which means you can work out where the steep bits are on your route and decide which way round to do the circuit – e.g. short steep climb followed by a long gentle descent, or long, long climb followed by 60 seconds of sheer terror! * Remember to take some water and a fully charged mobile phone.
Snowmobiling – there are some very nice trails around Ylläs and you can either go on an organised tour (family tours are very slow) or hire a snowmobile for about €40-50 an hour and head off out on your own.
Restaurants – Poro (reindeer in Finnish) at the Lapp Village is very, very good and quite reasonably priced. Avoid Hesburger at Ylläs Sport (it smells like stale fat in there) and go across to the bar/night club instead. Julies on the main road in Ylläs does interesting reindeer and kebab pizzas, but they charge extra to share.
Service - people generally seem to be quite laconic, so don't expect the sort of gushy smiley service you get in American ski resorts, but hei, kiitos, and ole hyvä seems to go quite a long way.