Robert Harneis discovers Scandinavia - the birthplace of skiing.

Skiing in Scandinavia is different. As everyone knows the daylight hours are very short in winter - runs are often floodlit to make up for this. There are also spectacular long drawn out sunsets and sunrises in winter with a chance to see the northern lights. At the end of the season in May it hardly gets dark at night. For those who want a unique skiing experience, it is ideal.

The scenery is nothing like the big mountains of the Alps but it is beautiful in a different way. The people are very welcoming and almost all speak perfect English. The opportunities for freestyle or snowboarding are tremendous. It is however more expensive, although restaurants are no more expensive than Londoners are used to.

The population is small but they have produced many great skiers. The percentage of those who ski is the highest in the world. As shown in the Winter Olympics there is a great tradition of military skiing too. Kids learn ski jumping at school; langlauf (cross-country skiing) is a very common activity and Scandinavia's youth are all hugely into skateboarding, ice-skating, and ice hockey.

The scenery is nothing like the big mountains of The Alps but it is beautiful in a different way

Norway is one of only a few destinations in Europe that can guarantee natural snow. It offers a superb range of high quality accommodation, a long season, few lift queues, and is easy to get to from the UK. Top resorts are [R2041R, Hemsedal], [R1963R, Trysil], [R1853R, Geilo], Lillehammer/[R2411R, Hafjell], [R2139R, Beitostolen], [R1933R, Voss] and Skeikampen.

Finland has become an increasingly popular destination for skiers from all over Europe, attracted by great scenery, Arctic adventure activities, guaranteed snow and of course, great skiing. Finland has a lot to recommend it, there are more than 100 ski areas to choose from and the country can even offer some of Europe's lowest ski lift prices, the northern lights and even Santa Claus's secret home!

Skiing in [R1965R, Ruka], Finland

Skiing in Ruka, Finland (credit Puroplan)













The top resorts are [R2005R, Levi] and [R1823R, Yllas] which recently staged the Freestyle Ski World Championships. Many people come here to enjoy the dramatic empty landscape and try out adventure activities like dog sledding and reindeer safaris. Most of the resorts have lots to do besides skiing including indoor swimming pools and unique attractions like ice hotels and the traditional cultural activities of the local Sami people.

Norway is one of only a few destinations in Europe that can guarantee natural snow

Levi is thought by some to be over commercialised but the skiing is good and it is picturesque. Ylläs has the steepest slopes and the largest cross-country network in Finland. The ski-in ski-out possibilities are not great in Finland but there is a good free bus service. [R1750R, Pallas], set in a national park, has only two lifts but is great for off-piste skiing.

Sweden is not a popular destination compared with Norway or Finland so Âre in Sweden is worth special attention as it has been ranked as one of the ten top skiing resorts in the world. It is 100 years old this year. It has all the usual Scandinavian attractions including dog sledding and ice fishing. Despite its low level above the sea it boasts a vertical drop of a kilometre but at the same time has 100 kilometres of trails and good beginners slopes. The night life is good compared with other resorts in Scandinavia. There are värmestuga huts with fires burning outside to warm up on the slopes.. Here you can heat up your lunch in microwave ovens free of charge. Sweden has avoided the Euro and kept the Krona, which has fallen to some extent in line with the pound so prices are not that bad. Alcohol is expensive but you can stock up at the airport.

Finland has more than 100 ski areas to choose from, some of Europe's lowest ski lift prices, the northern lights and even Santa Claus's secret home!

If you are keen on long distance ski de fond racing there are the two famous ski marathons in Scandinavia, the Birkebeineren in Norway and the Vasaloppet in Sweden.

Sweden has one unique winter sports attraction: it is the home country of the BMW snow and ice perfection training centre at Arjeplog just 60 kilometres south of the artic circle. Originally the centre was solely for the use of motor manufacturers to test new cars but now for a modest 3000 pounds you can spend four days on a frozen lake sliding about in the latest BMW cars. You get yourself to Arvidsiaur airport and BMW will take care of the rest. You can apply through your local BMW agent.