In early January 2015 I had the privilege of staying at Kiruna’s Ice Hotel in northern Sweden. The resort, like many others in the Scandinavian Arctic Circle, offered plenty of winter activities and adventures. Most of these activities cost around $200AUD but they run for at least three hours, include at least one meal and certainly justify the price tag.
My boyfriend David and I went on the Reindeer Encounter for a total of $200 each. Upon booking the activity we were under the impression that we’d be able to feed and pat wild reindeer. What we didn’t realise was that the encounter also included an attempt at riding one around a track.
The activity begins with a snowmobile ride to the reindeer farm, just outside of the Ice Hotel grounds. Once there the guide will hand you a bucket of hay before opening the gates and letting you into the enclosure to feed and pat the reindeer. Once they have been fed the guide catches three of the more calm looking reindeer and leads the group to the starting grid of the sledding track.
There have only been a handful of moments I can recall having feared for my life and I can honestly say that this was one of those moments.
During the sledding introduction our local Sami guide made it clear that whatever happens out there on the track, if you ever feel unsafe or if you happen to be thrown from your sled, release the rope and let the reindeer go. Sounded clear enough. But the next thing we knew our guide was flung from her standing position to the ground by the wild reindeer she was holding onto. Instead of releasing the rope, she allowed the animal to drag her into the surrounding metal fence and along the ground, in the snow, in sub-zero temperatures, around the track twice. Yep – twice!
At this stage you can imagine my fright. I did not want to get on that reindeer sled! Lucky for me there were two other reindeers who looked more relaxed (or so I thought).
David took his turn first and returned safe and sound so I took the same reindeer he had assuming it would also return me to the finish line safe and sound.
All was fine for the first 20 seconds. My reindeer guide was calm, cool and collected and so was I. Then the unimaginable happened. Another reindeer was catching up. I remembered to hold on tighter, anticipating my reindeer to race the other. I was right. What I hadn’t anticipated was my reindeer getting angry. At about the halfway mark on the track, the reindeers were neck and neck – I was having a lot of fun at this stage – then my reindeer turned to face the other and went in for the attack. The reindeers locked antlers. Both myself and the man at the end of the other reindeer were thrown from our sleds.
We made the walk back to the start/finish line as our reindeer were caught by the others upon finishing their race with no riders on board.
From behind us another reindeer came charging through and we were both thrown from the track a second time. Luckily we made it back in one piece with a pretty cool story to tell.
After everyone had raced a reindeer, we made our way into the nearby tepee for reindeer kebabs and coffee roasted over a live fire.
Then we were taken on snowmobiles to a Sami museum to learn more about the indigenous culture of northern Sweden before returning to the Ice Hotel for reindeer burgers, a nice warm shower and an Aurora display that lit up the night sky.
Despite my sledding story, I would recommend the activity to anyone who has ever wanted to meet a reindeer. If you have the money to spend and the time to spare, make the most of the activity while you’re staying at the Ice Hotel. You won’t be disappointed!
For more Ice Hotel reindeer activities, check out the website here.
Have you got an interesting holiday story to tell me? Leave it in the comments below!