Clumps of ice crystals cling to the strands of hair protruding from the hoods of our soft winter overalls. As a blizzard erases the boundary between the ground and sky outside, thick brown and ginger beards are turning white from snow. Inside the lavvo (the pointed Sami tent), our red faces are tingling from the warmth of the fire.
That fire is also heating a massive metal pot of a local reindeer stew (lapskaus), to be served with flatbread. At the moment, it is just as appealing as any of Northern Norway’s gourmet restaurants.
We’re at Tromsø Villmarkssenter, a cluster of houses and lavvos amid white wilderness near the comparatively big city of Tromsø. Here, we’re getting a taste of one of the most popular Arctic activities: mushing, or dog sledding.
Three hundred huskies live in doghouses outside. As they see the co-owner and competitive musher, Torkil Hansen, they all erupt in a cacophony of excitement and joy. These animals live for their next chance to chase their pack’s leader leaping into new snow, and you can really sense it.
“When I was born, there were about 30 dogs, and a number of farm animals,” says Hansen. As Tromsø carved out a place on the map as a travel destination, the farm animals disappeared. The number of dogs, though, has grown tenfold.
Now in his 20s, Hansen knows every single one of the huskies. But for someone not used to mushing – or even seeing snow, for that matter – it’s all rather overwhelming. What actually surprises people the most is how kind the dogs are.
“People expect to meet wild animals. And, by all means, they do live outdoors all their lives,” Hansen says. “But they are used to people, and are really kind and social.”
It is true: the dogs might jump forwards and place their paws on your shoulders, but it’s only to give you a nice, wet kiss. But once they’re strapped to the sled and ready to go, all that noise and playfulness is gone in an instant and the dogs’ moods change to determination.
So you head into the wild. “People will return radiating with joy,” says Hansen earnestly.
Despite the comfort of the fire and the warm lapskaus, we can’t wait to get back out there with them. Soon, the skies will clear and auroras appear, showing off the stunning beauty of these unique, far-northern landscapes in winter.
Dog-sledding is the environmentally-friendly, Arctic version of Formula One racing.
Available almost everywhere in Northern Norway.
Choose from short, one-hour excursions to a week-long expedition in the wilderness.
Your own involvement is up to you, you can lean back in the hands of a musher (dog handler), or you can take on the responsible for harnessing, driving, feeding and tending the dogs yourself.
The longest and toughest dog sledding opportunities can be found in Svalbard, Finnmark and along the Kjølen mountains.
A couple of days earlier we find ourselves even deeper into the Arctic, near the city of Alta – just about as far north as is physically possible on the European mainland.
Approaching the massive blocks of ice inside the igloo hotel, a kind of vibration or radiance is evident. It is as if the frozen walls are actively working to produce the huge space’s clear, if somewhat unaccustomed quality of air.
Mythical figures with sharp, distinct features reflect the glow of blue spotlights. They illuminate the ice pillars that hold the roof in an uneven, unworldly light.
“This is insane. I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Jon Brown.
The music producer and writer travelling through Northern Norway is awestruck. At Sorrisniva just outside of Alta, he’s in the world’s northernmost ice hotel.
Sorrisniva is the world's northernmost igloo hotel, located around 20 kilometres from Alta.
It was first constructed in 2000, and since then it has been re-built with a new theme every winter.
The hotel measures around 2,500 square metres and is made entirely of snow and ice – including the 30 guest rooms, the furniture and even the glasses in the bar.
There are also a number of decorative ice sculptures, an ice gallery, and an ice chapel.
Sorrisniva has a large restaurant that serves seasonal, local food, and guests can also enjoy facilities like an outdoor Jacuzzi, a sauna and a meeting room.
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