“Take it very easy here,” said my guide, as we gazed down through the trees to the frozen expanse of Lake Åre far below. “It’s steep and narrow and you need to keep in my tracks at all times.” On skis those moments of advice are always scary and usually followed menacingly by: “Whatever you do, don’t fall.” But when you’re at the controls of a 120kph 500cc snowmobile, it’s a whole new ball game. If you need a break from skiing in Are, Sweden – but want to keep your adrenaline levels stocked, then a snowmobiling safari is a must.
Anyone can do it. All you need is warm clothing (provided), nerves of steel, and a love of crazy, mind-boggling speed…ie the tools of the average committed skier. Oh, you do also need to bring along a valid driving licence and be fit to pass a breath test. Swedish cops go snowmobiling too.
The reward for me was two hours of unequalled adrenalin and petrol-fueled action against a wild winter landscape that came complete – on cue – with a whole herd of reindeer. At one stage, when we cut fresh tracks across an exposed ridge, an 70mph tempest threatened to blast us off the mountain.
It all began calmly enough with five minutes of basic instruction on the edge of the lake at Camp Åre, which co-ordinates all the extra-curricular activities around here. These range from kite-boarding and ice-karting to zip wiring, winter fishing and dog-sledding.
“If you want to right, lean right. If you want to go left, lean left,” our guide explained. Sounds easy? It was – on the lake – but when you’re slaloming downhill through the trees at 50 degrees it’s definitely white knuckle time. Fortunately the handgrips are heated!
To start with we roared across the lake at 60kph, getting a feel for how the machines handled. Then we headed up the mountainside and into the wild, stopping for a cup of coffee in a remote mountain hut. Going up from the lake was easy. Snowmobiling down, I can tell you, called for the motorized equivalent of a snowplough – a heavy gloved hand on the brake.
In Are, Sweden, the lifts close early at this time of year, and there’s no night-skiing tonight – so it’s time for a spot of sightseeing. Tännforsen is Northern Sweden’s answer to the Niagara Falls – back in the 1950s a guy rode a bike across the waterfall on a tightrope. In winter it’s half-frozen and the best time of day to visit is at dusk when the floodlights come on. Refracted light on the ice creates a glorious palette of colour.
But much the best bit is the adjoining igloo that’s been built here each winter for the last 13 years. It lasts from November to May and has a cool-on-the-bum amphitheatre, bar area, bedrooms, and even a bathroom with basin and ice loo all carved out of ice.