THE reindeer looked at us and we looked at the reindeer. We were at the top of the moon ski lift in the Finnish resort of Salla, within the Arctic Circle in Lapland.

The reindeer were munching grass, after scuffing their hooves in the snow to reveal a midday snack.

''This is very unusual,'' whispered my ski instructor Jonner. ''Usually we do not see them at all - or if we do, they run away.''

The deer normally stick to the surrounding spruce forest here, just a few miles from the  Russian border. But with few skiers about, they had ventured closer by.

Skiing in Finland is eye-opening and fun. After our impromptu encounter with the reindeer, we made the most of the almost empty, well-maintained slopes. We raced down pleasingly steep red runs on a par with anything in the Alps.

We glided along slightly easier blue slopes. And we took on a hairy, exhilarating black run, on which the French national squad had just trained.

Salla has only six miles of runs, but that makes it perfect for novices, those regaining a feel for skiing after a break, or intermediates honing their technique. It also throws up some surprises.

One of those is the chance to grill your own lunch at brilliant little mountainside barbecue huts that come with a fire-pit, logs and even axes to chop-up the wood - all you need to bring is matches, and food. 

This was how I found myself splitting logs, while Jonne started a fire. Sausages were soon sizzling on the grill and a pot was boiling with water from a flask.

The barbecues are a great way to save cash and warm up in temperatures that often drop to minus 20C.

During my time in Salla, it began to get light at  10:30 am and darkness fell by 3pm. This isn't a problem for skiers as  floodlights  illuminate the runs and, and it's curiously enjoyable zooming through the gloom.

But there is much more to Salla than skiing. On Mondays and Fridays, if you're feeling brave, tourists may join local ice-lake swimming enthusiasts.

It works like this : you go to remote spot on the edge of the Lake Ruuhijarvi at 6:45pm, pay 7, jump into a hole cut in the frozen surface, then retreat to a shed-like sauna heated by a wood-burning fire.

Repeat this procedure as many times as you care or dare in an hour. While this may sound like madness, it is wonderfully refreshing and somehow life life-reaffirming.

Food in the Arctic Circle is a treat. My favourite restaurant was Kiela, where reindeer burgers cost 16 and bowl of bear stew will set you back 32. A beer at the Papana Pupi pub door is : 6.

Yet the real joy of Salla is the otherworldliness : the short winter days, the possibility of seeing the  Northern Lights, the bracing reindeer and husky excursions offered by local-tour companies, the freezing conditions and the mysterious forest spreading  for miles around.

Salla's motto is : ''In The Middle Of Nowhere''. And after bobbing about in the freezing waters of Lake Ruuhijarvi, it was impossible not to feel that they've got it spot-on.

Finland has 75 ski resorts, but if Salla is not for you, there are others worth checking out. Rukka, just south of the Arctic Circle, is popular, featuring 12 miles of slopes, plus a compact town centre featuring lively restaurants and bars.

The skiing would suit intermediates, although there are a few challenging black runs, Snowmobiling, reindeer and husky trips are available from Ruka Safaris and Rukapalvelu.

Seven nights self-catering in a smart Ruka Suites  apartment with Crystal Ski-costs Pound 566pp, including flights from Gatwick and transfers. [Courtesy Daily Mail]


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