We'd hired the house and booked the flights for a winter wonderland trip to Finland when I first found out I was pregnant, with the promise of sitting in our cozy forest cottage, enjoying the fire, the view, and some hearty food. But true to form, once we got there, we were hiring cross country ski equipment and buying snow shoes!
The house we booked on AirBnB was stunning. It was at the end of a private lane, in the forest, over looking a lake which was all frozen over - you could ski right over it on the cross country ski tracks, and ski right in to the local village, Ruka. It had its own sauna, that I couldn't make use of without the door open to keep it cool, and a wood burning stove. It also had triple glazed windows, and was so well insulated, that despite the constant snow fluttering down outside, we had to turn the heating way down. Even that wasn't effective quickly enough due to the insulation, so at 3am in the morning, we had to open the front door and waft a bit of cold air into the house - not very environmental, I know, but it seems we have got used to our drafty Victorian house in Belfast!
Despite early pregnancy nausea and exhaustion, we managed to go skiing or snow shoeing every day, as the terrain is pretty flat and easy in Ruka, much easier than our first attempts at cross country skiing in Norway. The last time we were wild camping, dragging a 50kg pulk behind us! This time we actually booked a lesson, and the terrain was a lot easier and flatter around Ruka - I would recommend it for beginner cross country skiers - every few miles there was a cozy eatery selling hot donuts and hot chocolate, and there were a lot of tracks lit at night. It didn't have the feel of a ski resort at all, once you got away from the main downhill ski centre, you were skiing in silence through the most beautiful tranquil old forests, with maintained ski tracks, and sign posting. And it was very quiet, with only a few skiers passing you an hour. And we were able to get to all of this by skiing straight out from our house in what felt like wilderness, across the lake.
We took the car out to a national park one of the days, but as it was just more snow and trees, as beautiful as it was, we figured the area right around our house and Ruka was just as pretty so didn't waste our time in the car after that.
Snow shoeing was a lot of fun, but utterly exhausting, as you have to take pretty big strides, lift you feet quite high, and then you sink into the snow a bit, so there was only a bit of that I could do each day - much harder than hiking, but all a good excuse to come back to the cozy house, light the fire and stuff my face with all the yummy food we'd stocked up with on the first day at the supermarket.
On the last night, we booked into the Snow Castle in Kemi, a hotel built from ice each year. It was pretty pricey, and the first room we were given was very basic, small and dark. We had a wee nosy round at the other free rooms, as all the doors were left open, and they were absolutely spectacular, with huge ice carvings into the walls, and beautifully lit, so we went back to reception, and got an upgrade for £20, which was definitely worth it. It wasn't that cold, but I think our own sleeping bags would have served us better if we'd brought them along. The frequent pregnant treks to the loo in the night was quite a challenge though - it was at the far end of the complex, you had to go outside and walk up a bit of a slope for about 400m to get to it. Because of all the footfall, the snow was compacted in slippy ice, which made getting back from the loo, down the hill, in the dark, whilst pregnant more tricky than the skiing! But it was worth it for a glimpse of the northern lights on the way.
Planning cross country skiing while pregnant?
Get a nice house - If you're going to be as active as you can during the day, you will want somewhere really cozy to chill out in at night
Take a lesson - You can book a one-off lesson for an hour pretty cheaply. Your instructor will show you to put the skis on, how to stop, how to glide, and show you a few of the easier treks - it's great for building confidence when you're just starting out
Try snow shoeing - if skiing seems a bit scary or dangerous, stomping around in the deep snow in quiet forest is a lot of fun. It's not an efficient way to travel, so don't plan to go too far
Bring your own (very warm) sleeping bag if you're planning to stay at an ice hotel - and check out how much it is to upgrade the room - it was really cheap for us, and the room was infinitely nicer
Research the terrain before you go - you will want pretty flat land, as you don't want to risk falling over. If there's any steep parts that you're not too happy about, just take your skis off and walk down that bit - you don't need snow shoes to walk on the snow close to the tracks
Choose somewhere that has maintained tracks, and lots of stop offs for snacks and drinks - Ruku was perfect for this - hot chocolate and buns every 5 km or so