Reindeer Sledging and Sami Experience

Reindeer sledging led by Sami people

Reindeer Sledging Experience in Arctic Norway

We had a lovely time doing Reindeer Sledging and experiencing Sami Culture with Tromso Friluftsenter.

The day was bright and sunny after 2 days of snow storm, and we were picked up from Tromso centre in a mini van, and were transported to what we call winter wonderland! Located 20kms away from Tromso, this is a mountain island connected to Tromso by a bridge.  We arrived to a place called Risvik where our host Trine who runs Tromso Friluftsenter welcomed us warmly. She provided us with snowsuit and introduced us to the place, it’s geographical statistics, and history. Then after a short 5 minute ride, we got to a tundra region where a herd of reindeer and Sami were waiting for us.  The whole place seemed magical, as if we were transported to a life 100 years before.
Snow Kvaloya
A skeleton model of a traditional Sami tent
Ready for Reindeer Sledging with Sami people
The reindeer herd and Sami people waiting for us

We were greeted by 2 Sami people dressed in the traditional costume called Gatki, made of reindeer leather and fur.  There was a traditional Lavvo (Sami tent) from which thin layer of smoke was coming out, there were reindeer antlers fixed in the snow as a decoration. The whole tundra region was covered with blanket of fresh snow, the sky getting clearer and showing off the blue colour, Sun was peeping out of the clouds, and the reindeers were lazing around.  

The indigenous Sami people in Northern Norway
The 2 Sami people we  met
Reindeer sledging and Sami Experience in Norway
Reindeer Antlers used as decoration 
After a short meet and greet with Sami people, and with the lazy reindeers (and they each had a nice unique name) before we got into our sleigh seats.  And minutes later, the sleigh took off. Reindeers do not run fast, but can walk for hours with occasional runs. So, the ride started off smooth and slow.  All that we could hear was the sound of reindeer bell. It was quite a moment!  The tundra was all white with naked tree branches showing off.  
All set to do Reindeer Sledging
All set to sleigh with reindeer in the tundra 

Going quietly few minutes later, surprisingly, the reindeers started to run. It wasn’t as fast as huskies. But faster enough to break that silence. And after running few yards, they slow down again.  It was just perfect of what we needed.

Arctic Norway houses
A lovely house we encountered during the reindeer sleigh

All sudden, the weather started to change drastically – from sunshine to heavy snowfall. Reindeers seem to be enjoying the snow a lot. Although we were wearing snowsuits, we had to quickly cover all our gadgets that were getting drenched in snow flakes!  But the truth is we got lost in time and enjoyed those silent moments, surrounding and snow!
Reindeer Sledging during snow - quite an experience
Snow, tundra, reindeer, bells and sleigh – quite an experience! 

After a good 25-30 minutes ride, we were back to the starting point where 2nd group of people where waiting.  By then the snow got reduced, and the Sami people taught all of us how to throw lasso.  Lasso is a long rope that’s used to catch reindeers. The lasso is thrown on their antlers and pulled to bring the reindeer. After a bit of demonstration, we all were given chances to throw lasso! It was fun to try them, but we all were close enough, but could not exactly put the lasso. Then we all went into the Lavvo, traditional Sami tent.

Inside a traditional Sami Lavvo with bonfire

With the temperature at sub zero condition and snowing, we all felt nicer as we entered the Lavvo.  There was a bonfire in the middle of Lavvo, but moments later, we all got choked up with smoke.  Trine, our host suggested that we lay flat and rest our head down to avoid the suffocation. We all did as she said, and felt better, but couldn’t continue our stay in the Lavvo for more than 10 minutes.   By the time we all came out, the 2nd group had completed their sleigh and were back.  And the snow had stopped, thankfully!

We all took our time to take pictures with reindeers and Sami people. Then took off to a modern Lavvo tent built near Trine’s house. they are build in wood, with same looks, only a little bigger and spacious.

Modern Lavvo in Kvaloya
The look-alike Modern Lavvo

We were impressed with the way these modern Lavvo were built and were tastefully decorated by Trine and her family.  Inside, there were picnic tables, and chairs, and nice wooden stools topped with reindeer fur. There was a huge bonfire in the centre and there were antlers kept in random places. Coming inside such a cozy tent was welcoming, especially after being drenched in snow.

Interiors of a Modern Lavvo tent
Interiors of Modern Lavvo maintained by Tromso Friluftsenter

We were offered hot tea/coffee.  After chit chats and more talks, Trine served us with traditional soup known as Bidos, a reindeer meat stew with vegetables that was prepared by her.  This is a traditional food of Sami served during weddings and other celebrations. Since we opted for vegetarian food, we were offered bread rolls with cheese. 

We heard from other travellers that the stew tasted really good. After a little more chat, we came to know that Trine’s ancestors were Sami themselves. She and her brother grew up listening to the Sami stories from their grandfather who was also a Sami.  Although Trine and her family have not registered as Sami, they are proud of their roots, and that was evident from the amount of information she shared with us about Sami culture and history.  
They had butt boards available inside the tent which a couple of us used to do sledging on the slopes close to their home.  Came back, and had bit more talks and roasted marshmallows, but this time we heard the Sami singing their traditional song called Joik. It seemed like a perfect ending to a great tour. After spending a good 5 hours on the tour, we were ready to travel back to Tromso city centre. 

We had absolutely fab time understanding Sami culture, and having sleigh fun with reindeers. We totally recommend this tour if you happen to be in Northern Norway, because there’s no better way to experience Sami culture than this. And Tromso Friluftsenter are the guys who can make this dream come true.  They are very professional and run the tour without any hassle, and most importantly know the business so well, and are extremely knowledgeable about Sami people and their culture. 

Information about the Tour:

When: The tour runs between January to March every year

How much: Costs 1450 NOK per person

Duration of the tour: 4-5 hours

Who are the Sami?

Sami are the indigenous people of Northern Europe / Scandinavian region. Sami’s homeland is spread across northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. There are roughly about 70000 Sami people currently living across Arctic.  Sami’s language, clothing, handicraft, lifestyle and music is distinctive. Reindeer and Sami have a great cultural connection with Norway that’s more than 1000 years old.  

Sami Culture in Norway

Occupation and Living

They pursued a variety of occupation for their livelihood that includes coastal fishing, sheep herding, fur trapping, but for centuries, best known for reindeer herding. Samis made their living out of only reindeer – used them for food, clothing, and trading. 
Nomad Lifestyle and Lavvo

Sami led a nomadic lifestyle since their livelihood largely were dependent on fishing and reindeer herding. They migrated north to south and vice-verse along with their reindeer travelling 2000 miles every summer and winter. 
Lavvo is a temporary dwelling used by Sami  that protected them during snow and high winds, and provided them with shelter.  There’s a fireplace in the centre of the tent that will help them keep warm during winter. Lavvo has been a strong symbol and part of Sami Culture, even today.  Take a glimpse of how a traditional Lavvo looks like. 

Reindeer Herding and Domestication
Reindeer herding and husbandry is legally reserved only for Sami people  in Norway and Sweden.  According to Wikipedia, currently 10% of Sami are connected to Reindeer herding, and 2800 (approx) are actively involved in herding on a full time basis in Norway alone. The role played by Sami women is pivotal in breeding and domesticating reindeers. 

Sami people Norway

Tradition of Castrating Male Reindeer

Mature male reindeer are half-castrated in order to make them stronger and keep up the body weight.  And the Sami’s do this in a rather traditional (unusual for us) way. Ask me how? They pin down the reindeer, and bite off one of their testicles with teeth (ewww!!). 
Traditionally, this process is done by Sami women. It seems, this process facilitate the survival of entire herd and keep them more resilient in the future. The castrated male is also willing to share the food with calves. And it becomes a life saver for arctic reindeers. 
Sami in today’s World
After years of discrimination and diminishing culture, Sami people now have their own rights, and parliament and are supported by governments of various arctic countries.  There are official Sami policy in place to protect the rights and interests of this indigenous people in Norway. February 6 is celebrated as National Sami Day. Although the Sami follow the reindeer herding till date, and pass over the tradition to the future generations, they possess snow mobile, modern housing, electricity and communication devices for day to day life. 

Reindeer in Kvaloya Norway1

Some Facts about Reindeers
# Reindeers eyes change color depending on the season.  
# Reindeers are the only type of deers that has antlers in both male and female.
# And they are the only animals that sheds and grows new set of antlers every year
# Just like human finger print, each reindeer’s antlers are different and unique 
# Reindeers are the only mammals to identify UV rays.
# Reindeers can naturally survive -60 degrees and can walk thousands of miles. 

Check out our sledging and Sami Experience video that covers our sleigh ride, tundra landscape, inside a modern lavvo and Sami singing their traditional song called Joik

Note: Reindeer Sledging and Sami Experience was made possible by Tromso Friluftsenter. We would like to thank them for giving us this opportunity. As always, all the opinions expressed here are our own.  

32 Responses

  1. Do they live in those tents with just fire to warm them in Northern arctic? I can't even sleep on my terrace, during the winter in Chennai – it's so cold 😛 Namma oorla, reason-e illama 'kottura paniyile paddukkathe-nu' sollravanga ellam inga poi pakkanum 🙂

    They used to migrate over 2000 miles every summer and winter? Do they still do that?

    Destination Infinity

    • yes,they used to live in tents like this. Now the Samis have a nice home for themselves! Ha ha! I can understand 😛

      They don't migrate a lot like earlier due to the restrictions they face across the borders. And they now let the reindeers in the wild, and trace them back using GPS!

  2. Bravo! Very pretty pictures! I envy you guys for being able to experience sledging and clicking such as great pictures. 🙂

  3. This looks so amazing! I would love to visit here! Thank you so much for sharing!

  4. wow the pictures are mindblowing..thanks for taking me through a virtual tour …. absolutely loved it..!!

  5. I do really envy you both. Good for you, enjoy while you are both free. The narration as well as the pictures are both very good.
    My friend has been asking me to join her in a trip to Israel which she plans to visit in May end, I am still thinking, for it would be very hot there, as it is the hot Bangalore weather is really getting on my nerves. I love to travel to cold places only.

    • Thank you Rama 🙂 You should totally be visiting Israel. It must be an amazing experience that you cannot miss. Bangalore – hot? really? you must be kidding! Go to chennai and see then ? 😛

  6. Whoa ! What a lovely post. The first two photographs give the feel of a Wonderland indeed ! Am glad to be on your blog 🙂

  7. Fabulous captures and that sounds like a great experience.

  8. Oh! That seems like a lovely experience!

  9. Lucky you… your trip sounds fabulous! Very detailed and interesting post. Love the pictures.

  10. What an amazing experience this must have been! The reindeers look so cute 🙂 Not sure if I would have coped with the cold though!

    • You will be fine Catherine. Just that, you will be really glad thermals were invented! Wearing appropriate layers will help in managing cold weather up there! And trust me, once you see those reindeers in a snow capped terrain, you just want to enjoy the ride!

  11. Such a wonderful adventure. How do you go about packing and buying clothes suitable for somewhere like Norway in such cold? (When your not in your snow suit)

    • Many layers of clothing is not the key to sustain cold Kate! We need right layers – they are named thermals/fleece/wool 😀 Will soon be publishing a post about an ultimate guide about this.

  12. Nice to learn more about the Sami people. Very interesting read. Amazing how they live in those tents in such extreme weather. Lovely pics (as always) 🙂

  13. What an amazing tour ! wow looks breathtaking. Gorgeous photos !

  14. woww this looks so exciting. It must be quite an experience 🙂

  15. Wow I did not know that about reindeer! What remarkable creatures. I would love to experience this, reindeer sledging seems quite fun (though cold). I have never heard of the Sami so I'm glad to learn more about them.

  16. It's posts like this that make me fall in love with culture and the unknown! Great photos and post! I loved learning about the Sami!

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