I’m perched on a reindeer skin-lined husky dog sled, slicing through Swedish Lapland at a rate of knots thanks to a dozen of man’s best friend. Despite the natural bumpiness of our chosen vehicle (sleds are still a common way to get around in this area) and the sway from side to side as the dogs turn according to our guide’s orders, the cobalt blue sky and never-ending cotton wool-covered ground are enough to relax anyone’s mind.
As we race across a frozen lake – the ice is over 10cm thick so it’s perfectly safe the guide assures me – I rack my brains, trying to remember the last time I saw scenery like this, and the best analogy I can come up with is a during a television programme about the moon.
Traditionally in my mind, snowy places are mountainous places, but as you step off the plane at Kiruna airport, the sight of the expansive white landscape, stretching to the horizon in all directions, hits you in the face as much as the as the -20°c wind chill. Indeed, the word ‘landscape’ doesn’t really do the scene justice, because it’s impossible to see land; ‘snowscape’ seems much more apt.
“Gee!” yells our guide and the dogs turn left. The problem is, ‘Gee’ means right. To let the dogs know that they’ve taken a wrong turn (if there is such a thing in a land where there are no roads), our guide applies the brakes to slow the sled down, and continues to shout “Gee” authoritatively. One of the lead dogs turns his head to look back inquisitively at us, almost seeming to question his owner’s choice of direction, but another reassuring ‘Gee’ comes back and we plough on.
Ahead of us lies our destination, the remarkable Ice Hotel, built from thousands of two-tonne blocks of shimmering blue ice hacked straight out of the nearby frozen Torne River. The brakes are applied once more, the snow underneath us crunching under the compression, and the sled comes to a halt. All at once, the huskies start barking, howling and pulling at their harnesses, and we’re told that they’re simply desperate to get going again.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s 10km or 60km, they just want to carry on running,” smiles our guide. “They’re not tired after the journey and can’t wait to run again.”
I, for one, am quite happy to let them carry on running.