If you think of winter as being the months when there is snow on the ground and when temperatures are primarily below zero, then winter lasts, here, from November through until c. May. We can normally mush on snow throughout this period - although the beginning and end times vary from end to year and some years we are even happily sledding in October!
Having said that, we are hesitant to book safaris in the very early and very late season since we would hate to have to cancel. Hence, we tend to take reservations for short safaris from c. end November to end April and for longer multiday safaris only from c. 2nd week January. Even then, we warn that the safaris at the 'outer limits' of each booking period are subject to conditions and route availability.
Locals divide the arctic winter into distinct phases:
Early winter, (from c. end November until c. mid Jan) and
Mid-winter, (from c. mid Jan until c. end Feb).
Early Spring, (March - mid April) Late Spring, (mid April - end May) The conditions in each of these time periods vary tremendously, with daylight hours varying, for instance, from zero, in December, to 14+ hours per day, in Spring.
Early winter includes the cross-over months of November and December. Some years, the snow cover is already well established in November, the temperatures are consistently below -10C in the daytimes and night-time temperatures can fall below -20C. Other years, we may get one or more weeks when the temperatures hover around 0 and the conditions become icy and challenging for dog training. If so, we may need to stop training for a few days to eliminate risk to the dogs - or return to using the quad for a while, since we can regulate speeds better, with a quad, than with a sleigh. Northern lights can usually be seen surprisingly well at this time.
Our main client-season starts towards the end of November but in November and December our focus tends to be on shorter one-day safaris since there are many people visiting the area in search of Father Christmas. December is also the period of 'perpetual / polar night' and this is clearly the darkest month of the year. In Enontekiö we are so far north that this lasts for 3-4 weeks, from December 6th to January 6th (and the mid-night sun, from 26th May to 18th July).
FYI: the technical definition of 'within the arctic circle' is a place in which, for at least one day, the sun neither rises nor sets. But don't despair. A common misconception is that this means that it is totally dark but in fact, this is one of the most beautiful times of year. The trees are laden with snow which doesn't melt in the sun (since there is none). And there is a c. 4 - 5 hour period each day when there is a magical twilight light that illuminates the erthreal beauty of the landscape. Even at night, when the moon and stars are bright, you can see surprisingly far without headlamps because of the reflection off the snowy landscape.
Daylight, therefore, plays a huge role in the winter safari experience since the polar night. Hence, choose your season carefully, since it will impact on whether you are more likely to be mushing through the fairy-tale, snow-laden landscapes of early winter, surrounded a great deal by darkness, or the bright, sunny landscapes of late March.
You could be dog-sledding in December and not see the sun rise, and five months later, dog-sledding all night, and not see the sun set!
By the end of December, depending on how busy we are day by day, the conditions are generally good enough for us to have opened most of our longer routes and therefore safari options are wider. The new guides are still learning the trails at this time, though, so our facility to run the longer tours might still be a little more restricted than it is slightly later in the season.
In reality, however, when the sun is only just below the horizon, it creates a fantastic array of blue-tinged hues as the snow reflects the refracted sunlight (and the moonlight on moonlit nights). It is as if you are living in a perpetual dawn or in a twilight zone. Hence, it is possible to go out dogsledding right through the Polar Twilight, without artificial lights although the guides, at least, all carry good torches so that they can react quickly and safely to things like dogs getting tangled in the lines. This time of year is for the adventurous with a flexible and open frame of mind.
At this time, Hetta plays host to British Christmas charter packages - groups of people who fly in for just one day to visit santa and do a crash course of arctic activities - and Hetta's unique Snow Castle is also a popular attraction.
By January, we have a little more time and the guides and dogs are also fitter and more able to withstand the long days and cold temperatures. The sun starts to poke its head above the horizon and we start to prepare the tracks that are needed for the longer multi-day products. This is a really beautiful month in the sense that the tree branches are still laden with snow, there is still a part of each day with the ethereal refracted light of the Arctic winter and you feel like you are mushing through a picture-perfect winter wonderland.
By February, the hours of daylight are noticeably longer and the sun occassionally shines even if the temperatures might still be some of the coldest of the winter. The combination of wind and occassional sun has started to melt the snow from the trees so the appearance of the landscape changes and becomes a bit more stark. The only thing that can be said with confidence about temperatures in February is that they vary. Nights are generally still very cold - and, indeed, Enontekiö has the lowest average temperatures in Finland. Daytime temperatures, however, may fluctuate between +5C and -45C - with the average probably being around -15C. Even within one day the temperature might fluctuate by 30C, so guides often start the day in bitterly cold temperatures and gradually pull of clothing layers through the day. This is one of the biggest challenges to those unused to arctic conditions.
By March and April, we are entering Spring. The arctic is fully laden with snow and the tracks are great. The days are long, bright and often sunny - although short-lived snow storms are also possible. By the end of April, the sun is only dipping below the horizon for a few short hours each day so people need sunglasses to prevent eye damage from the brightness of the sunlight reflecting on the vast fields of snow. The ambient daytime temperature is noticeably warmer although still several degrees below freezing – and night-time temperatures can again drop below -20C, though -10 C is more usual.
More information can be found, here, about the single day safaris ie shorter safari options lasting for one day or less and farm activities and tours as well as about our multiday safaris, our multiactivity products and suggestions and other winter activity options availabile in Enontekiö as a whole.
Temperature, Snow Depth, Daylight and Northern Lights Sightings
You can check out the current snow situation here.
Reindeer are one of the few species to survive up here since they have oleic acid in their bone marrow which works as an anti-freeze. Lucky visitors may have a chance to see a reindeer gathering at some point betweeen end December and mid January since this is the time of year when they separate some for slaughter and vaccinate the rest. Willow grouse and ptarmigan are two of the six hardy bird species that are adapted to survive here and you often come across these on the roads.