Alex van Terheyden
Winter escapism on a loud snowmobile in central Finland
I recently found myself visiting the centre of Finland during peak winter when snowfall was at its most fluffy and dense. And the outside temperatures consistently remained below zero degrees celsius. As one moves closer and closer to the arctic circle the snowmobile becomes more and more of a common sight. It’s a machine you would never see in the Caribbean but that’s OK they have their jetskis. Whereas the Northmen of Europe & North America have their snowmobiles.
7km from the centre of Jämsä, located on the waterfront of Lake Patalathi which connects to Finland's deepest lake - Lake Patalathi. I found myself kitting up in a 1 piece snowsuit that would protect me from the freezing elements but also should the crash my snowmobile and it blows up while I’m on (this is very unlikely to happen but it’s always best to be prepared)! Once I had my helmet and gloves on I was ready to explore the frozen lakes and forests that surround Himos. A winter resort known for its ski slopes in the winter months and buzzing music festivals in the summer months.
A snowmobile, also known as a Ski-Doo, snowmachine, sled, motor sled, motor sledge, skimobile, or snow scooter, is a motorized vehicle designed for winter travel and recreation on snow. It is designed to be operated on snow and ice and does not require a road or trail, but most are driven on open terrain or trails. Snowmobiling is a sport that many people have taken on as a serious hobby in recent years.
Snowmobiles do not have any enclosures, except for a windshield, and their engines normally drive a continuous track at the rear. Skis at the front provide directional control. Early snowmobiles used simple rubber tracks, but modern snowmobiles' tracks are usually made of a kevlar composite construction. It was only in the second half of the 20th century that saw the rise of recreational snowmobiling, Over the years riders have been called snowmobilers, sledders, or sled necks. Recreational riding is known as snowcross/racing, trail riding, freestyle, boondocking, ditch banging and grass drags. In the summertime, snowmobilers can drag race on grass, asphalt strips, or even across the water. Snowmobiles are sometimes modified to compete in long-distance off-road races.
The Snowmobile greatly changed life in northern communities, especially North America's isolated communities, but also northern Scandinavian communities where Ski-Doo replaced sled dogs by the end of the 1960s. Although Sled Dogs are still used they are just much less common and are generally used for racing and sentimental reasons (check out my Husky Racing Video if curious about that experience). The Snowmobile also greatly improved communication between isolated communities. Snowmobiles are also called "Snow Machines” in some areas of Alaska.
As a result of their inherent manoeuvrability, acceleration, and high-speed abilities, skill and physical strength are both required to operate a snowmobile. Snowmobile injuries and fatalities are high compared to those caused by on-road motor vehicle traffic. Losing control of a snowmobile could easily cause extensive damage, injury, or death. One such cause of snowmobile accidents is loss of control from a loose grip. If the rider falls off, the loss of control can easily result in the snowmobile colliding with a nearby object, such as a rock or tree.
Most snowmobiles are fitted with a cord connected to a kill switch, which would stop the snowmobile if the rider falls off; however, not all riders use this device every time they operate a snowmobile. However, both snowmobile tours I experienced in my time in Finland (Himos Ski Resort & Tahko Ski Resort) encouraged the use of the kill switch and provided extensive training on how to use the machines even if the riders had ridden before.
A common mistake for many riders is being a little too confident while bombing along the powdery trails - one could get a little too excited and lean badly or swerve off of the path. Which could result in rolling the snowmobile or crashing into an obstacle. In unfamiliar areas, riders may crash into suspended barbed wire or haywire fences at high speeds. Each year a number of serious or fatal accidents are caused by these factors. In my time in Finland I made one mistake - I tipped my snowmobile while riding in the Tahko Ski Resort - this caused the snowmobile to turn on its left side - which in turn broke the windshield. Thankfully it only set me back 30 euros at the end of the ride to repair but more costly mistakes could cost the rider north of 1000 euros if they manage to destroy their machine. Something that happens at least once a season with at least one rider no matter on the resort.
While I was snowmobiling I managed to get mine up to 80kmph - one wrong turn or a clip of a hidden rock could have ended with disaster; so I don’t recommend pushing the machines to the limit (as they can go way past 100kmph with ease). Each year all over the world, riders are killed by hitting other snowmobiles, automobiles, pedestrians, rocks, trees, or fences, or falling through thin ice. As long as you are aware of the dangers you will approach with caution and respect the trails ahead.
Collision with large animals such as moose and deer, which may venture onto a snowmobile trail, is another major cause of snowmobile accidents. Most often such encounters occur at night or in low-visibility conditions when the animal could not be seen in time to prevent a collision. Also even when successful, a sudden manoeuvre to miss hitting the animal could still result in the operator losing control of the snowmobile.
Risks can be reduced through education, proper training, appropriate gear, attention to published avalanche warnings and avoiding drinking alcohol. It is recommended that snowmobile riders wear a helmet and snowmobile suits. And thankfully with all this information and amazing tour guides at your disposal either in Himos Ski Resort or the Tahko Ski Resort you are going to have a good time!
If you are curious about my ride at the Himos Ski Resort - check out the video that I made for my YouTube Channel “The Wondering Englishman” - titled - “Snowmobiling on the deepest frozen lake in Finland - Päijänne Lake - Himos Finland”.
To Snowmobile in either Himos Ski Resort or Tahko Ski Resort, I would advise flying into Helsinki Airport and then either taking the Train north or renting a car. The trains are extremely well priced and incredibly comfortable in Finland. In peak winter a car though will give you the freedom to get about it can be fairly difficult driving when the snow is coming down blizzard style. Either way if you have ever wondered what Snowmobiling is like - Finland is as good a place as any if not better to try it out for yourself. Highly recommended and worthy of your time!
I am not sponsored by the Finland Government or any Travel Group, I simply have written this post as I enjoy travelling. Please do check out this blog for more independent travel ideas and my YouTube Channel. As always, videos can always be found on YouTube & Odysee. I use both as sadly YouTube is now censoring content whereas Odysee is for Free-Speech.
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Thank you - Alex van Terheyden AKA The Wondering Englishman