Competitive reindeer-racing is a popular sport across the Arctic Circle. In Finland, the season runs from November to April and good jockeys are local celebrities. They need strong biceps and serious guts: strapped onto cross-country skis they are hauled behind reindeer at up to 60km/hour. Meanwhile, the animals are trained to peak fitness. Owners give their reindeer massages and whisper last-minute instructions in their ear.
Cathy FitzGerald travels to the snowy north of Finland to find out more about the sport. She visits the little town of Inari, where the cappuccinos come with tiny antlers sketched in the foam and the local bar – PaPaNa, ‘The Reindeer Dropping’ – serves pizza topped with bear salami. Each year, the top 24 fastest reindeer compete here to be crowned The Reindeer King. They fly around a two-kilometre race track carved on the surface of icy Lake Inari to the cheers of hundreds of spectators.
There is a social side to the competition, of course: a winter village grows up around the track where herders can browse for cow-bells, snow-mobiles and fox-fur hats. And at night, there is dancing under the northern lights at Hotel Kultahovi where Eero Magga croons his big hit, ‘Poromiehen Suudelma’ – ‘The Reindeer Herder’s Kiss’ – to an appreciative reindeer-racing crowd.