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In February, Annabel van Westerop, Joshua Emanuel, Oswald Smith, Rita Arnaus and Youri Zoon joined the Pallas Kiteweek, an annual event bringing snowkiters together in Finland. They enjoyed everything Mother Nature threw at them, and ticked quite a few things off the bucket list, including the must-see-in-your-lifetime northern lights…
Photos: Ilari Jalli, Sebastian Stiphout, Tomi Tähti
The week could be described as a never-ending adrenaline rush! Moving from one mind-blowing adventure to the next, it was a week that kept on giving. The main goal of course was snowkiting and the feeling of having your kite pull you through fresh powder was indescribable. The freedom is unlimited as you kite up mountains and fly back down. Somehow going upwind is much more efficient than on the water, so you can reach different mountains, valleys and natural kickers between the trees in an instant. We experienced all possible conditions. The week started with mellow cruising days on my 12m Reach, then we had a combination of lighter and stronger wind, and high and low visibility. As the local crew explained, there are three factors in perfect snowkite conditions: wind, snow quality, and visibility. Usually you will get two out of three, and having all three will definitely guarantee the perfect session. Every day was different which made for an awesome playground to explore. One session I would have a go at trying my usual set of tricks in the snow, which proved more difficult than expected! The next I would go on a mission exploring the unbeaten path between mountains.
Snowkiting, however, was only a fraction of the experience. The adventures continued into the night with campfires at huts out in the woods and the northern lights making an appearance. We have all seen pictures of the aurora borealis, but to be able to see it with your own eyes, as it dances and moves like a snake through the sky, is the most magical experience… To switch up the action we spent our days ticking off other bucket list items like snowboarding in the most beautiful area with the best snow I have ever seen, and visiting the huskies for a sledding trip. It was wonderful to learn how to ride a sled and learn that the huskies absolutely love what they do. In a nutshell, it was an unforgettable week. I’m extremely grateful and lucky to have experienced this with the Pallas Kiteweek crew and the other riders and friends we shared the week with. I’ll be back!
Lapland was a bucket list trip for me, one that I had been dreaming of doing for a very long time. It became a trip filled with a list of NBDs. My NBD list got ticked off quicker than I could expect, starting with the northern lights, a natural light display in the sky of dynamic patterns of brilliant lights. We were fortunate enough to experience them three nights in a row, each night giving us something different to the previous evening’s display. Next up was speed riding – the Pallas Kiteweek crew had an incredible instructor, Juho Ruokanen, who offered to take me up the mountain and send me on my way with a parachute above my head. This was probably the most exhilarating experience I have had in a long time. After my first flight, which felt extremely high, I touched down at the end of the slope and as the adrenaline surged through my body, I could barely stand as my legs were shaking uncontrollably. Unfortunately time was limited and I only managed a couple of tries before we headed off to our next adventure… At the husky center, Oswald and myself teamed up to slay some huskies through the snow – yet again another unforgettable experience, watching how much these dogs loved to run and pull the sleigh through the snow. Every time we stopped they would look back at you barking like crazy, basically saying “why have you stopped, we want to run!”
With the snowkiting we scored some fun sessions exploring the incredible landscape around the hotel, literally pumping the kite up five meters from the door, then heading out through the trees and up onto the open plains and mountains. We also went for a snowboard mission in Levi, Kittilä, which was a unique one as Finland doesn’t have the biggest mountains but has lots of trees, which made for some fun lines as we carved down, weaving through the trees. Two of us managed to semi take out a couple of trees – I almost went through a tree and Oswald chose to challenge a bigger tree that didn’t bend, instead he bent around this tree… Overall this was one of the best trips I have ever experienced and it’s definitely one I will be doing again in the future.
This was my first time snowkiting and I couldn’t have chosen a better crew than the Pallas Kiteweek crew to try this experience. Coming from Spain and not having traveled to places with such cold weather, they were very helpful and professional. I’d never been in Finland before so I literally had no idea where I was going, and what it was going to be like. I was ready to learn and discover, and was very excited to try snowkiting and feel what it is like to fly a kite in the mountains. Everything was really different compared to my usual trips to warm places kiting in a shortie wetsuit, but it was definitely beyond my expectations. I had so much fun. We were pretty lucky with the weather; the locals said that we had the best conditions in terms of wind, visibility and snow quality.
What I enjoyed most about snowkiting was to be able to go up the mountains with just my kite and snowboard, into hills that have no other way up – no chair lifts or roads. It was so beautiful, everything covered with snow, and kiting between snow-covered trees as well… It was like in a movie. I would say that that spot is made for snowkiting. The rounded mountains, not too tall, not too pointy, are great for going uphill with the power of the kite and on the way down you can simply forget about the kite and ride down the hill. It was one of the best experiences ever; I didn’t expect that the kite would react that well in such cold conditions, as well as my body and skills. I was eager to try some tricks and could do some jumps, rotations and unhooked tricks, just like in the water but with way more lift and airtime, so all in all it was insane. Another funny fact was that as the topography of the mountain changes so does the wind, and you can find yourself riding the mountain in all directions, sometimes with the kite and other times just by harnessing gravity. I’m so grateful I got to try kiting somewhere different, it was so much fun with the Lapland crew, and I cannot wait for next year to see them all again!
In 2019 I was invited by the Pallas crew to check out snowkiting in Finland. Pretty much as soon as that trip was over, tickets for the following year were booked. Unfortunately, thanks to Covid and the birth of my son, they just lay on my desk. But finally, in 2022, it all came together and before I knew it I was on the plane to Lapland. I arrived at night and was collected by Petri; I asked him what the deal is with the northern lights, and, well, a minute later, I was standing on the side of the road watching them. Some say it’s luck, others say… well it was just pure luck! Arriving at the hotel with 120 kiters staying there, the hallways were packed with kite gear. If you are a kiter it is a lovely sight, if not it might seem messy haha!
The forecast for the next couple of days looked really good, and after an early breakfast the next morning, we hiked up and set up under blue skies with fresh snow. What a day. After about five hours of riding on my Machine, it was time to go back to the hotel for a massive dinner. And yes the dinner is so good at the hotel. I also got to tick something off my to do list that I didn’t get to do last time I was in Finland: ice hole swimming. Luckily there was one at the hotel… cold, but rewarding! The next day we did a longer hike right up to the peak, but the views and the laughs on top were well worth it. The following day the wind direction changed so it was time to discover a new area with a natural halfpipe filled with powder, an epic playground. That evening we did a short walk to a night cabin for some beers, laughs, and sausages on the grill. The way back in the pitch black, with perhaps a few too many beers, made it pretty interesting… The next couple of days delivered super strong winds of around 35 knots with almost no visibility, but the snow was just insane, so good. Fresh powder in between the trees created one big playground for me where I played for hours and hours… Unfortunately the trip came to an end, but like 2019 my dates are already set for next year. I’m already excited about something we did in 2019 that we will do next year: an overnight trip building and sleeping in an igloo…
It’s sometimes hard to put things into words and this trip was exactly that. From snowkiting on the top of mountains, husky sledding on the low lands, snowboarding the finest powder, swimming in frozen lakes and gazing at the northern lights… we did it all! Going to Finland I honestly didn’t know what to expect. It was completely out of my comfort zone, but I guess that’s what excited me – the unknown. Josh and I traveled from sunny South Africa to blistering Finland – it was a 45-degree temperature drop. The Pallas Kiteweek crew greeted us with open arms; they are some of the nicest and warm-hearted people I have ever had the privilege to meet. It was my first time snowkiting. It’s crazy how the same sport in snow instead of water could have such an enlightened sensation. It felt like I started kiting all over again, that initial ‘stoke’ was back! The wind in the mountains is a lot cleaner than I would have thought. We were able to ride from the top of the mountain straight through the forest back down to the hotel. From stomping on trees to grading the powder, it was an incredible feeling.
When the wind dropped, Petri, our local vibe catalyzer, showed us the Levi ski resort. It was huge beyond measure. We ended up spending Annabel’s birthday there. The smiles were rolling and beers flowing; what a time. As soon as you think a trip can’t get any better, that’s when magic happens. I remember writing a school project on the phenomenon of the northern lights back in the day, but never thought I’d be lucky enough to see them in this lifetime. With colors dancing in a celestial haze, it was pure magic. All in all, if I had to sum up this trip in a single phrase it would have to be: “dancing in a dream of a world above”. Honestly one of the best trips of my entire existence, I highly recommend this trip to everyone wanting to explore and tick the bucket list. Thanks Pallas Kiteweek for showing us the way. ■
This feature originally appeared in TheKiteMag #47. To read the full issue, subscribe here.