I speed up quickly and then brake hard. I try again and move a little more smoothly the second time around. By my third attempt I think I've got it.
I'm following our guide, Olli Haavikko. There are two more snowmobiles behind me and we glide along as if floating on the snow, pushing aside white powder like foam in a giant bubble bath. We are moving fast and with force, but only the sound of the wind meets my ears and only the sweet aroma of pine meets my nose. It's a peacefulness not usually associated with snowmobiles, whose motors growl and grunt like motorbikes.
We're traversing the thick Finnish snow on electronic snowmobiles – or eSleds. Our guide Olli also happens to be one of the four engineers and co-founders of Aurora Powertrains, which developed the eSled concept and helped launch the electric snowmobile safari company Aurora eMotion. Our three-hour snowmobile tour is part of a customised multi-day tour we're undertaking with 50 Degrees North.
"I might take a group out once a week or so," Haavikko says. "It's nice to be outside and to spend time with customers."
The electric snowmobile concept came up in 2010 while the engineers were working for Lapland University of Applied Sciences (two engineers started the project and Haavikko and the fourth engineer joined soon after). It took the group another seven years in the research and development stage before they opened for business in 2017. By the time the 2018-19 northern hemisphere winter season came around they were running daily snowmobile safaris using their 20 eSleds.
"The goal is to eventually manufacture the eSleds for commercial use," Haavikko explains as we set off across the frozen Lake Lehtojärvi. "But the safari operation has proven to be successful – and also acts as a test environment."
The past few days have seen almost 40 centimetres of fresh snowfall across Lapland and I don't know which way to look, with lofty pines swathed in glistening white in every direction. Tremendous snowfall, however, can be challenging for snowmobile safari operators as they need to maintain and use the trails daily to keep them in prime condition. "More research and development … in a way," Olli laughs.
Our group has fairly similar capabilities. I'm … let's say average, my husband is the tiniest bit better, and the couple behind him are pros on the powder-white snow. Haavikko ushers us into the dense forest and the only sounds we hear are trees whipping in the wind and the crush of snow under our eSleds. About 20 minutes into the journey we pull over.
"I want to show you my village from up here," Haavikko says, clearly excited to show us the cluster of snow-cloaked homes in the distance.
The next hour passes quickly as we whizz around in silence, watching flurries flutter around unremittingly. When it's time to stop in a kota (hut) before turning back, we all welcome the opportunity to defrost and chat. Here, Haavikko prepares warm blueberry juice and our conversation quickly evolves from how beautiful it is in Lapland to the mechanics of the electronic snowmobiles.
Haavikko assures the group that the eSleds are more powerful than their traditional noisy sisters and when we get back to Lake Lehtojärvi it's time to test out his theory. I'm now feeling confident in the saddle and speed up following Haavikko. The tumbling snowflakes quickly become ice-cold needles that pummel my face, landing on my lips and nose – the only bits of my skin left uncovered. We speed up to the legal limit, 60 kilometres an hour, and then slow down as we near the Arctic SnowHotel (where the tours start).
We've raced and played and zoomed around, but if you didn't set eyes on us, you'd never know we were here. With zero emissions and next to no noise, all we've left behind are tracks in the snow.
The Arctic Light Hotel in Rovaniemi is one of Lapland's top properties – a 54-room hotel with exceptional service and the best breakfast in town. See arcticlighthotel.fi/en/.
Finnair flies to Rovaniemi daily from Helsinki. Its partner airlines Qantas and Cathay Pacific depart Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth via Singapore, Hong Kong or Bangkok for Helsinki. See finnair.com/au.
50 Degrees North specialises in authentic travel experiences in the Nordic region, including Finnish Lapland. It offers both independent and group tours; the eSled safari can be included as part of any Lapland itinerary that includes a visit to Rovaniemi. See fiftydegreesnorth.com
Tatyana Leonov travelled as a guest of 50 Degrees North and Finnair.