Jamie Nicoll – the DH racer turned Enduro racer turned adventurer. There aren’t many people who have the life experiences Jamie has both on and off the bike. Having raced around the globe on the world circuit for DH and enduro and spent time built trails for mysterious billionaires, Jamie now focuses on adventure. Adventure in the purest sense of the word, seeking out something new and unusual, unknown to oneself and to others.
When the prospect of joining Jamie on one of his trips came up we instantly jumped at the chance, particularly when we found out the details. Winter Biking in the Arctic Circle. In Finland. In February.
Living in the UK we are well seasoned to riding in the cold, rain and slop. Finishing rides where your feet no longer have feeling and you’re cold to the core. But this was different… As the trip approached the weather forecast started to show temperatures of -28 degrees. Surely not? We couldn’t ride in those conditions…surely?!?! Laughing and joking with Jamie in the week before the trip he assured us we would be fine, we’d have pogies for our hands and good winter riding boots for our feet. It couldn’t be that bad could it?
Arriving into pretty chilly Helsinki we took a 14 hour night-train north to Kolari. As morning approached we awoke to a rapidly changing landscape. Dustings of snow and frost had lined the streets in Oslo now trees were drowned in snow, fighting to stay upright. The excitement of what was ahead started to build and we tried to prepare for the temperatures that would greet us as we disembarked the train. It couldn’t be that bad could it?
Little did we know we’d arrived on the coldest day of the Finnish winter. A fresh -29degrees greeted us and was somewhat of a shock to the mind and body. With our hands literally numbing within seconds of the skin being exposed, we quickly learnt that staying warm really wasn’t a joke here.
Our base for the week would be the small town of Ylläs. Although famous for boasting over 330km of XC skiing trails, we were there to sample the Winter Biking trails which had been opened up in the National Park. Riding in Yllas would bring a whole new meaning to the term Winter Biking as we would find out.
We were joined by Timo Veijalainen, arctic photographer, filmmaker, local guide, trail groomer and also one of the forces behind the Winter Biking project in this part of Lapland. When you think trail building you think shovels, spades, rakes right? Not here. Timo spends countless hours on the skidoo perfectly grooming toboggan like trails with snow berms, swooping climbings and descents which leave you grinning, not quite sure how you had the grip you did.
We had the pleasure of exploring the network of trails Timo and the other local team had put together, taking us through terrain which can only really be described as Narnia.
Each of us in the group were experienced riders and fortunate to have travelled to some of the best international riding locations. For me personally the Winter Biking trails in Ylläs join the top 10 list, for completely different reasons. The five days spent on the trails of the Pallas-Yllästunturin took us through some of the most spectacular scenery you can experience on a bike. Being so far north, the sky offers you sunsets and sunrises not viewed in very many parts of the world. When riding bikes in this part of the world, you don’t need to pedal very far from the town to get a sense of being in the middle of nowhere.
With winter placing its firm grip on nature, there is nothing but stillness and almost complete silence save for the creaking of snow under your own tyres. The vastness of the area and the layout of the Winter Biking trails means you rarely come across another rider or skier. What you have instead is peacefulness and landscapes that feed the eyes and mind. The conditions mean you rarely go above 8km per hour when climbing or flat trails, but the chilled pace gives you time to inhale and take in your surroundings, something that you rarely have chance to do on the fast technical trails of the UK and central Europe. Trees that turn into winter snow giants pass you by and you can’t help but think is it all real until the bitter air brings you back to reality.
The Winter Biking trails may not be technical in terms of the wet roots, rocks and gradients you find elsewhere. But the thrill of the technical challenge is replaced by the pure and simple fun of cruising along smooth snowy trails in the complete wild, achieving that sense of remoteness, riding over frozen swamps and lakes, descending down toboggan like trails, leaning the bike over as far as you can with a huge grin on your face knowing that if it all goes wrong you’re only crashing into a mountain of powder, which is pretty comical in itself!
Winter Biking in -29degree conditions is challenge and unique. Its not one for the faint hearted, but if you can face the chill you’ll have a riding experience like no other. Jamie Nicoll found our Arctic Dream. All I can say is thank goodness for pogies!!
(One question I’m sure some of you will wonder… Did our bikes suffer with the cold? Hubs, brakes and gears all worked perfectly. In the whole week the only slight issues was a drag on the bottom bracket. Even Hope can’t be perfect all the time!)
Images: Max Schumann