Not yet 30 years old, Levi in Finnish Lapland has grown from one hotel in 1981 to a full-scale winter resort boasting 23,000 hotel and chalet beds and featuring as an established stop on the International Ski Federation (FIS) Alpine Skiing World Cup circuit.
Named after the 1,742-foot (531-metre) fell that provides the resort with its 48 ski slopes rather than the fast-growing village – officially named Sirkka – at the foot of the hill where most of the accommodation and après-ski activities are located, Levi now sees the bulk of its visitor growth coming from outside Finland.
Today, 25 per cent of Levi’s tourists come from other countries – most of them by air, but many from Norway, Sweden and Russia by car, according to Jussi Turgala, head of Levi Travel, the resort’s official tourism authority and travel agency.
The fact that Levi’s growth as a resort now relies on international tourism isn’t particularly surprising: Despite its huge size, Finland only has a population of 5.4 million people. But the four main reasons for Levi’s rapid rise to prominence as a winter resort are particularly compelling in terms of its potential to attract additional international visitors.
The primary reason for Levi’s growing popularity is that it offers winter sports activities for at least seven months of the year, says Turgala. In 2009, Levi’s ski and snowboard slopes opened for business on October 16 and they are expected to close again in mid-May – but they could stay open until early June, depending on snow conditions.
Second is that not only does Levi offer a complete range of ski slopes to suit everyone from the beginner to the World Cup competitor, but it also has hundreds of miles of snowmobile and cross-country-skiing tracks. From the resort, a network of 550 miles (886 kilometres) of maintained snowmobile tracks (350 of them in all) extend all the way to the “Ice Sea” of the Gulf of Bothnia, says Turgala. Additionally, a 143-mile (230-kilometre) maze of 162 cross-country ski tracks extends from Levi throughout the surrounding region of forest and wilderness.
Third is that Levi is (in Europe) the official winter resort and post office of Santa Claus. This is far more important a factor than it might seem. One of the resort’s two busiest periods is from late November to just before Christmas, when hundreds of charter flights – particularly from the United Kingdom, by far Levi’s biggest source of international tourism – land at nearby Kittilä Airport, bringing families with children to see Santa and his reindeer.
Fourth is that Levi is remarkably convenient to Kittilä Airport, located as it is just a 15-minute bus drive away on the region’s main road. Levi’s proximity to the airport is probably one of the main reasons why it has grown slightly more quickly than Ylläs, another growing winter resort – offering some 20,000 beds, according to Turgala – located about a 30-minute drive from Kittilä Airport.
By any standards Levi’s range of winter activities and facilities is impressive. Starting with skiing and snowboarding, the resort’s 44 beginner-to-intermediate slopes and four black slopes are served by 26 lifts. These include a gondola lift (Levi is one of only two places in Finland where gondola lifts, or cable cars, are operated), a chairlift, 14 T-bar lifts, and six stick lifts and four rope tows for children. The children’s lifts serve 10 children’s slopes.