Winter Season Finale at Kiilopää - Top Tips for Organizing a Crust Snow Biking Trip
As the busy winter holiday season in Saariselkä comes to an end in spring, the number of visitors in the fells decreases. However, winter continues at Kiilopää. What do Roll employees do when the fell becomes quiet of people? Perhaps they are taking a vacation? After the majority of people have had their holiday season, it’s time to take a breather and enjoy the late winter/spring weather. The amount of daylight increases day by day. Spring progresses in leaps and bounds towards summer. Bird flutters and chirps fill the fells early in the morning.
This year (2020), there is plenty of snow in the fell area until late May. Thanks to night frosts, the snow hardens, allowing for more freedom of movement on a bike than during the snow-free period. What a sense of freedom when you can bike, and even ski at times, anywhere in the fell and forest! This is possible during the snow-covered period. When the ground is snow-free, biking is allowed only on marked trails within the national park area.
At first, I cautiously try beside a traveled track to see if the untouched snow can support me. What joy! Now I can ride anywhere. The feeling of freedom takes over the cyclist. I fully enjoy this experience, even though I woke up earlier than on a workday. On a cloudless day, the goal is to head up the fell to admire the views and take advantage of the opportunity to travel anywhere. I have to remind myself to check the time and assess the passage of time and the warming weather. When crust riding, it is easy to lose track of time, and the direction may change multiple times during the ride.
After night frosts, an early morning is a more reliable time for snow biking. On some days, the cool weather has allowed for riding from morning to evening. Now it seems that the weather will warm up during the day. We decide to go for an early morning ride. A couple of hours pass quickly, enjoying the snow ride in the fell. By late morning, we have to return as the warm air softens the hard snow surface.
I use the warmest part of the day to plan an overnight trip, pack, and rest. I wait for the evening to go for another ride, intending to stay overnight in the fell. I start moving around seven in the evening. The air hasn’t cooled enough, so the snow surface is soft, and progress is somewhat challenging. Turning back is not an option, though sometimes a change of plan is sensible and wise.
I pack my night gear on top of the bike into Vaude frame bags and a daypack. My first winter bikepacking trip is about to begin. I head for a well-used track that can support my bike, and I can ride. I hope to reach a lean-to in the fell where I plan to spend the night. Plans change quickly, and I try to get to a hut a few kilometers away. The well-traveled track can support my bike, so I make progress. I ride a Canyon Dude 8 fat bike with a wide 4.8″ tire. With a wide tire and pressures below half a bar, there’s better load capacity on a soft surface.
When you venture off the trails, navigation skills are essential. You need to know where you are going and your destination to find your way there and back. In spring, those traveling in the fells must consider the nesting activities of animals and the calving season of reindeer. They should not be disturbed.
I reach the hut, make a fire, and do my evening chores. I go to bed early because I want to wake up and start moving early. The early morning is the best time in the fells. The evening wind has subsided. The air is completely calm, and the sky is cloudless. The sun has risen before me. I listen to the silence. The chirping of birds. The Wagtail. It’s warm I enjoy my time. I take my time with morning routines, put the gear on the bike, and head somewhere. I ride the fell’s summits here and there. Maybe a bit aimlessly. There’s no rush to go anywhere and no precise plan. No other thoughts in my head. I ride from one peak of the fell to another. The scenery opens in every direction to far-off fells.
The sun is already warming up quite a lot. Today, the snow is unlikely to support the ride long into the day. I start planning my return home. The snow-free patches have increased in the fell, so I have to circle around a bit and search for a return route down the fell. Cycling is not allowed outside the marked routes on bare ground. I choose snow-covered areas; along them, I can get to the other side of the fell, where I have a snack break before descending from the fell.
One of the best trips ever!
BEST TIPS FOR PLANNING THE TRIP
In the Saariselkä area, the best time to find supporting snow crust is from mid-April to early May, when daytime temperatures begin to rise, but nighttime frosts keep the snow crust firm. Thus, for the formation of the snow crust, it is important that there is a significant difference between day and night temperatures. Mornings are often the best time for snow biking when the snow crust is still firm due to nighttime frosts. Follow weather forecasts and local advice to find the best moments and places for snow crust riding.
Here are a few tips to help you enjoy snow biking in Kiilopää’s stunning landscapes:
- Schedule your trip late enough. The best snow crust times usually start in the second half of April.
- If you don’t own a fat bike, rent one. With a narrow tyre, the chances of success are almost 0%.
- Ask the rental shop for advice and tips on the best routes and current conditions.
- Follow weather forecasts and favor the first hours of the morning for cycling when the snow crusts are most likely to be firm after nighttime frosts.
- Plan your route so that you have to ride as little as possible on south and west-facing slopes, especially at the end of the trip. The sun can soften the snow crust surprisingly quickly.
- Plan your route so that you don’t go too far or can get off the route if the snow crust no longer supports you.
- Ride with very low tire pressures.
- Be prepared for changing conditions and always carry warm clothes, snacks, and first aid supplies.
Remember that a successful trip requires patience and a bit of luck. eep searching and trying if the first time isn’t successful. It’s only a matter of time before all conditions click into place, and you can enjoy snow biking at its best.