This is the world's nothernmost sled dog race, and in 2013 a total of 129 participants, called mushers, competed in Finnmarksløpet, representing 13 different nations.
The race itself has two classes; one for teams of up to eight dogs over a distance of 500 kilometres, and one for up to 14 dogs, over 620 miles. Both start and finish in Alta. The shortest takes a long loop to the east before returning to Alta, while the longest and hardest goes further east before returning to Alta four to six days later. Kirkenes in the extreme northeastern part of Norway marks the half-way point, 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
Finnmarksløpet was first arranged in 1981 and has since then been held annually.
What to do
Even though the race crosses some of the most sparsely populated wilderness Norway has to offer, you can still be there and experience the various legs of the race. All but one of the checkpoints along the way are accessible by road and many also have cabins for rent, so why not combine the trip with some other winter activities in Finnmark?
No matter where you are in Finnmark, the winter is an excellent time to observe the northern lights.
For groups of spectators, Finnmarksløpet offers packages of daytrips with huskies, snowmobile safari, northern lights safari, and a night at the Igloo Hotel in Alta. If you like, you can even join the contestants at the opening banquet before the start of the race.
There is no need to wait for next year's race to try your hand at dog sledding, though. Several other destinations in Finnmark can offer both short and long trips in the winter months, as well as other exciting winter activities.
Kirkenes and Alta both have busy airports with several daily flights to and from Oslo and Tromsø, as well as many smaller airports in Northern Norway. Rental cars are available at both airports, with six different companies at Alta Airport and four at Kirkenes. Booking in advance is advisable.
Hugging the Norwegian coast on its way northwards, Hurtigruten (The Coastal Steamer) takes six days to reach Kirkenes from Bergen, before turning back south again. The coastal cruise will let you relax while you travel and gives ample opportunity to observe the midnight sun in the summer, or the northern lights in the winter.
The Finnmarksvidda mountain plateau
Finnmarksvidda forms Norway's largest mountain plateau and is the most sparsely populated area of the country. It is situated 10-1640 feet above sea level, and has one of the most extreme temperature differences between summer and winter in all of Europe. In winter it routinely gets as cold as -104 ºF, though the record low is -124,52 ºF, and in summer temperatures above 86 ºF are not unknown.
Consequently, it is an area that can offer a wide variety of activities. In winter, dog sledding, skiing and observing the northern lights are just some of the things you can do, whereas the summertime can give opportunities for bird watching, hunting, fishing and hiking, just to mention a few of the most popular. Some places also offer summer skiing.
Find out more about Northern Norway
Dog sledding elsewhere in Norway
Even places in Southern Norway can take you on trips in the mountains behind a pack of huskies, the most commonly used dog for sledding. They are strong, hardy, eager and well insulated against the cold. In fact, their fur is so thick that they often prefer sleeping outside in the snow. In the morning, you may see snowdrifts slowly start to move and break up as dogs buried in snow during the night start to wake up. Remember though, that even if they are fluffy and cuddly, these are working dogs and not pets, and should be treated as such.
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