Ruka, Lapland. Snow falling softly, gentle down on the ground and forming a smooth, thick bed of fluffy substance. The first thing you want to do when you see it is dive into it and crawl around. What do we have to do to make a winter trip in Lapland with 18 international students happen? We must all work together and divide the tasks for the trip and planning of the trip.
The adventure started with the preparations. We got an overview what and when each activity was going to happen during the week. We discussed about the roles within the group and then every student got a task. There were ‘day-leaders’, ‘kitchen masters’, ‘accommodation queens’ and more. We had an overall leader, and this time this was one of our students. Our teachers were only local guides when we would arrive in Ruka. We had to organise everything with the least help as possible.
Not only the day planning is important. Some of the challenges were waiting for us in the snow in Ruka. Before we went, we learned about hypothermia and frostbites, and not only theoretical. Like always in this course, the method of learning by doing was used. We practised how to secure somebody who has hypothermia in our classroom. We can already say, we were lucky and nobody had to be secured during the Ruka trip. But still it is important to know about these methods when someone will be in danger. After all the preparations and packing, the trip to Ruka could start.
It was Sunday morning around 9 o’clock when all our students and their luggage was in the bus off to Riihimaki. It was a long and tiring journey up North: Bus, train, train… 3 o’clock it is getting darker… Train, bus, 4 o’clock pitch black… Stop for some food… bus. Finally, we arrived at the cottages 2 hours later than planned. We prepared the beds, talked a bit and fell asleep to be energetic the next day, for our first day of winter sporting.
The first day we went snowshoe hiking. The leaders of the day decided to walk 8 km in total and have lunch in a nice hut next to the mountains top. We had two groups of 9 people. The ‘faster’ group and the ‘slower’ group, which meant one would go first and arrive at the hut and start the fire and the second would wait and walk slower to get to the hut. We got our equipment at the Ruka rental shop and started hiking. Nobody forgot the compass or map, so we were able to train our orienteering. Everybody who wanted to lead the group through the snow was welcome to do it. In our group, the day leader said: “We don’t want to do an easy way so there will be some challenge.” Therefore, we had to find our own way without following a certain path. We trained to use the baring on the compass and it worked all well. Heading for the lake, that would be in the middle of our way to the hut, we found it. It was already frozen so we were able to walk over it our leader said. But next to the lake there was a swampy part which was not fully frozen, and it made “gggrchhhhh” sounds and one of our group members got her feet wet, up to her knee. This was a somewhat critical situation, since we had to find the hut and fire to warm us fast now. Cold temperature and wet feet are something you really have to take serious because it can get very ugly. If we wouldn’t have had spare socks with us, the chance of a frostbite would have been very high. Luckily, we were prepared and we could walk further to find the hut.
We walked up the white and fairy tale looking hill in front of us, but it was not always easy to find the right way. It was exhausting to walk through the swampy area. And the snow was high and difficult to hike through. To walk in the front needed a lot more energy than to walk in the back because the path was already made by the people in front of you. But we reached the hut and enjoyed the lunch before we climbed to the top of the ‘mountain’. (Actually, Finland doesn’t have any real mountains, since a mountain has to be above 1 km and the hill in Ruka is 500 metres. Just a nice fact.) From the top, we had an amazing view over the area. We were almost able to see Russia, but the clouds averted this. After this beautiful viewpoint, we walked back to the village and then again, we had a little stop close to the end and reflected the day. Back home we cooked dinner, went to the sauna and fell washed-out but happy into a deep sleep.
Without too much sleep, the next day started. This day the activity was going to be cross-country skiing. Almost nobody did it before. For the students who were used to stand on Alpine skis, it was very difficult, because it is completely different from downhill skiing. Everybody got it in the end and managed to ride the long thin skis down the trail. When there was a “big” slope which we had to ride down from, nearly everybody fell, but all came back without injuring. We had a lot of fun.
On the third day, we again had a new challenge. This day, everyone could choose between learning to ski or snowboard, and two of our students could get intermediate training because they already were able to ski or snowboard. There was a big difference in the level of experience, but there was a lesson fit for everyone because the more advanced skier and snowboarder could teach the other group members together with the instructor. They started on the baby slope, but at the end of the day they already went of the blue and sometimes red slopes. Even though the snowboarders fell dozens of times, they also picked it up really fast and joined the skiers on the slopes. We had a lot of fun helping each other and improving our techniques but also just playing in the snow together.
Last but not least, we were invited to a secret place for a meeting with the teachers somewhere close to the huts. With a little drawn map we navigated us to the spot and got a snack and a warm drink. This was the final reflection of the trip and a goodbye to the teachers who were going to stay in Lapland.
We drove home in the busses, trains and busses again, all worn out, sore from the sporting but content. Someday some of us will be the overall leaders for these trips and plan everything alone or with someone else. We learn a lot!