Monday, March 19, 2007

Rajalta Rajalle-Hiihto : Extreme Sports : Skiing Cross Country Across Finland Border to Border from Russia to Sweden

Have you ever imagined seeing a herd of reindeer crossing your ski trail? Now THAT is a unique and unforgettable experience.

That is what happened a few days ago to one of our friends (BB2 2007), who just finished participation in one of most unusual extreme sports offered on our planet, the annual international Border to Border (Rajalta Rajalle-Hiihto) literal "cross country" ski event across the country of Finland from the border of Russia to the border of Sweden on a route skirting the Arctic Circle (Kuusamo - Taivalkoski - Pudasjärvi - Ranua - Keminmaa - Tornio).

This tour has been described by Cross Country Skier as "a week-long odyssey in which marathon distances become a lifestyle".

The ca. 440 kilometers (ca. 275 miles) of the ski route are covered in 7 days with daily cross-country skiing distances of anywhere from ca. 44 to 78 kilometers (on a "non-competitive" basis) as fixed variously by the organizers, with the difficulty of - and time required for - each daily ski stage being greatly dependent on the weather.

The Border to Border ski tour is an organized event for experienced and hardened ski tourists involving 7 straight days of up to 50 miles per day of physically demanding skiing. Cross Country Skier even writes: "This is a vacation that requires months of advance training", although persons not highly trained have managed this tour. Still, training is highly recommended so that one does not have to give up because untrained joints in the legs, arms or wrists are strained or because blisters on soft skin not hardened by experience may make further progress difficult. The right equipment and clothing for temperatures below freezing are also essential, especially for the feet.

Travel by bus, food and lodging are provided - for which reason participation involves registration and payment of substantial charges, including payment of a small deposit upon registration for the tour. See e.g. the tour prices charged by Nordic Saga Tours Sports & Adventure in Edmonds, Washington, USA or Schulz Aktiv Reisen in Dresden, Germany. Still, costs are kept as low as possible by the fact that the organization is done through 6 Finnish municipalities and nearly 200 volunteer workers. Otherwise it would probably be impossible to run this kind of an adventure ski tour at an affordable price.

Very nice to very simple accommodations are provided in hotels, huts, youth hostels and schools. A sleeping bag is required, but this and other belongings including extra and very necessary clothes are transported along the ski route by bus. Because of the sometimes close accomodations (many persons sleeping and perhaps snoring on the floor of a school in sleeping bags in more remote locations), earplugs may be recommended.

Interested persons should read carefully the general requirements listed at Rajalta Rajall-Hiihto, the Border to Border home website. And, for persons not accustomed to the extraordinary skiers of every age out there, including seniors . . . as noted at Cross Country Skier: "Just prepare your ego to be passed on the trail by some 70-year-old Finnish lady."

The ski-trail track (loipe) is marked (groomed) by snowmobiles and a snowmobile follows the last skier in each group to make sure no one is lost, while participants for safety reasons carry mobile (cell) phones. Periodic way stations at appropriate intervals for food and drink along the way are manned by volunteers, who are residents of the region. There is a possibility for skiers to take a bus rather than to ski a segment if the skiing becomes difficult for whatever reason.

Border to Border traditionally takes place each year in the first half of March and registration to participate in one of the 4 tour groups of maximally 100 skiers per group must be made by December 31 of the preceding year, for example, by 31 December 2007 for the 2008 tour (experience indicates that registrations should already be in by June to be sure of getting a spot).

Four tour groups are scheduled for 2008 and given below (for 2009 and 2010 see http://rajaltarajallehiihto.ranua.fi/?deptid=9559).

The Year 2008 Border to Border group ski tours
March 6 to March 12
March 7 to March 13
March 8 to March 14
March 9 to March 15

As written by Border to Border guide Jaakko Heikkinen:

"The Border to Border ski tour has established its position as a major ski and tourism event in northern Finland."

The home page of the Border to Border tour is found in Finnish and English language at Rajalta Rajalle Hiihto

Other interesting links involving Border to Border are:

Cross Country Skier - Finland from Border to Border (2003)
at crosscountryskier.com

Skiing across Finland (2004)
by JoAnn Hanowski at MasterSkier.com and Nordic Skiing Magazine

Skiing in Lapland
by Olaf Bochmann of Ames, Iowa

Border to Border: 440 kilómetros esquiando por tierras de Santa Klaus
from Antonio León García, Spain (2004)

Finnish Tourist Board

Rajalte-Rajalle : ein Skilauf quer durch Finnland (2005 - in German, auf deutsch, von Andrea Blüthner)

Århus Skiklub - Dagbog fra "Border to Border"

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