Published in National Geographic Traveler
Why Swedish Lapland?
Located about 200km north of the Arctic Circle, the village of Jukkarsjärvi is famous for its Icehotel – created each winter from two-ton blocks of ice sawn from the frozen River Torne. But the surrounding wilderness of frigid lakes and snow-clad forests is also a winter wonderland for husky sledging and other activities. From September to March it’s one of the best places in the world for viewing the northern lights, while direct charter flights with Discover the World from London to Kiruna (about 15km from Jukkarsjärvi) make it a realistic destination for a short break.
What did you do?
We learnt to mush! Anna, our guide, had one sledge, pulled by eight huskies. Sally, my wife, and I had two smaller sledges, each pulled by teams of four dogs, with one of our children (11-year-old twins Joe and Ellie) standing on the runners in front of us, helping us to steer, brake and shout commands to the dogs. We spent the first night at base camp – a comfortable lodge overlooking the husky kennels, with views across the valley towards Jukkarsjärvi. The next morning we were taught how to handle the huskies before setting off on an exhilarating daylong mush to a cabin deep in the Lapland backcountry. There was time for a sauna before Anna served up a sumptuous meal of arctic char and smoked reindeer fillet (Joe and Ellie thought it was delicious, but didn’t appreciate quips from their father about finding a red nose in the sauce). After mushing back to Jukkarsjärvi, our third night was spent in the Icehotel.
What were the highlights for the kids?
Joe and Ellie adore our labrador Holly, so I knew they’d be just as soppy with the huskies. Some of them looked like they’d stepped straight from the local wolf pack, but they were actually very gentle and friendly – if rather noisy and excitable when the time for mushing approached. The twins loved getting to know their individual dog teams, learning how to fit harnesses and traces, encouraging the huskies on the trail and feeding them at the end of each day. They got a huge thrill out of the mushing. According to Joe, it was like riding a dog-powered rollercoaster, “never knowing what’s around the next corner”. The biggest appeal of a trip like this for kids, though, is that you get to try lots of unusual activities. As well as dog sledging they had a go at snowmobiling (as passengers only), ice fishing (Ellie caught an impressive perch), ice sculpting (using alarmingly sharp chisels) and sleeping in the seriously cool Icehotel.
What did you get out of it?
Trying something really adventurous with kids in tow is not always safe or practical, but this trip – as epic as it sounds – was as easy as, well, falling of a sledge. Having our own guide made a huge difference: we could do things at our own pace and never felt pressured by an inflexible itinerary. Ultimately, the holiday was just a lot of fun – and if the kids are happy and relaxed, so am I.
How did they cope with the Icehotel?
Sleeping on ice was new to all of us – but the beds in the Icehotel are surprisingly cosy with their mattresses, reindeer pelts and arctic grade sleeping bags. Their biggest worry was that they might need to get up in the middle of the night to visit the toilet – a chilly dash outside to the Icehotel’s heated reception building. Overall, it was an exciting way to round off the trip – toasted, of course, with blueberry juices (and vodka cocktails for mum and dad) served in ice glasses at the Icebar.
Did you need any special kit?
All-in-one polar suits, thick mitts, balaclavas and snow boots are provided. You need to bring thermal underwear, warm mid-layers (fleece jackets etc) and thick socks, plus sunglasses or ski goggles and high-factor sun cream and lip balm. Basically, it’s like packing for a ski trip. It’s also a good idea to take spares of easily mislaid essentials like warm hats and gloves.
Best bit of all?
It would have to be the night we stepped out of our wilderness cabin after dinner to find the northern lights in full glow overhead. We walked out into the middle of a frozen lake, huddled down on the ice together and watched the star-spattered sky pulse with wave after wave of green and crimson light. It was the best excuse the kids have ever had for staying up late.
How to do it
Discover the World (01737 214291, www.discover-the-world.co.uk) offer a three-night Exclusive Wilderness Escape from £1,769 per adult and £1,011 per child (under 12), including return flights between the UK and Kiruna (direct or via Stockholm); airport transfers, privately guided husky sledging and other activities, accommodation (including one night in the Icehotel) and most meals. A non-exclusive, three-night Wilderness Husky Adventure from £1,499 per adult is also available.