Getting off the Beaten Track
Most crossings of Finnmarksvidda begin near Alta, on the coast, and finish inland at Karasjok. In winter, there are two main routes to chose from. First is an 80km snowmobile trail, broken by overnight stays in three mountain huts. Pretty scenery, but you'll be following a marked track where noisy snowmobiles and other skiers are a regular occurrence.
For a true wilderness experience, it's far more rewarding to devise your own route across the plateau. Snowmobiles are forbidden out here, so you'll be alone amid the pristine expanse. Most parties stay in the first and final mountain huts (Jotka and Ravnastua), diverting off-grid - east of the great lake of Iešjávri - in between. Expect to take six or seven days to complete this sort of cross-country itinerary.
Equipment and Weather
Of course solitude necessitates self-sufficiency. Like polar adventurers, you'll need to pull a pulk (arctic sled) packed with a tent, sleeping bag, stove and food. Many groups go properly Norwegian and add a husky dog or two for extra pulling power.
As well as expedition-quality equipment, you'll need specialist skills to survive in this beautiful yet unforgiving environment. The main challenge is keeping alive in the unrelenting cold. By March and April the 24-hour darkness is over, but night-time temperatures of -25°C, with -10°C during the day, remains commonplace. Wind ramps-up the chill factor significantly.
In these conditions little things matter, because cold fingers can quickly escalate into a medical emergency. Razor-sharp navigation is essential too, given the often featureless landscape.
If you have the experience to travel safely and independently across this landscape, go for it. If not, consider joining a guided group. Some immensely experienced arctic guides operate here, all happy to share their knowledge and equipment, and lead even novice skiers across the plateau. They'll provide numerous small tips that not only make this environment survivable, but add a degree of comfort to your trip.
Given that you're properly prepared, get ready for the trip of a lifetime. This is a unique wilderness journey such as few have experienced, and the overall impression is of a vast, empty whiteness. Vegetation and wildlife are both scarce, but you're likely to meet at least some of the resident creatures, such as linx, foxes, reindeer, lemmings and ptarmigan.
If you've never skied or pulled a pulk before, fear not; it's not rocket science and you'll pick it up fairly quickly. Hauling the pulk up steep slopes can be laborious, but there are countless possible routes across the plateau, and picking your terrain wisely is all part of the challenge.
An average day might consist of five hours active skiing. In crisp, sunny conditions, the views extend far and wide across the snow-clad void. In blizzards, your vision might be restricted to the back of the pulk in front. Having an organised system of clothing is essential; one or two layers may be sufficient to avoid overheating while you're moving, but a warm jacket is your first priority as soon as you stop.
Anything that gets damp or sweaty will freeze whether it's inside the tent or not, and it's interesting to discover how different products perform at sub-zero temperatures. Toothpaste, chocolate raisins, deodorant - which ones do you think freeze solid?
Picking good camp spots is a skill too. Deep snow facilitates pitching in a world where shovelled snow rather than pegs provide security, while the availability of fresh water greatly reduces the amount of fuel you'll need to burn. An ice drill lets you bore through lake surfaces to access drinking water below.