For the last week we have been in Kiilopää, a national park in the arctic circle to attend codefreeze which brings the Software Craft and Testing Conferences to one of the most remote places I have ever visited. I was drawn there by the pictures I saw on Twitter of last year and this year, I could contribute a fair share of my own.
The conference has been a breathtaking experience and we will definitely be go there again, not only for the conference, but for the beautiful nature that the national park offers. And with a direct flight from Frankfurt to Ivalo, which is just a 40 minute bus drive from Kiilopää it is easy to go there for us. We even had Finns, that had longer journeys to reach this remote spot in the arctic circle where there is basically nothing for hundreds of kilometers.
The national park itself is around 40 kilometers in diameter and preservers a natural fern forest with very old trees, they can reach up to 300 years before they die and will then keep standing for another 50 or more years.
Soumen Latu is a charitable organization in Finland that aims to preserve the nature which operates the Fjell Center where we stayed. It's a small village with a main building where you will get great food basically all day, which has a rental shop and a public sauna that is on all day. Next to it is a hostel for groups and a hotel with rooms for one to two persons. We stayed in one of the roughly 40 cabins that house two to ten people. Our log cabin of 50 m² was equipped with it's own sauna and a fireplace.
With the next supermarket being 26 km away and the airport around 40 km, no industry a ban for snowmobiles in the area the nights were absolutely silent. And even at day, when being just a few hundred meters away from the main building, you would hear not a thing.
The masses of snow, that blanketed the area created an incredible atmosphere and a fascinating black and white backdrop for the many outdoor activities you could have: between 1000 and 1500 the sun was above the horizon—not visible from the fjell center, though—and here we did nordic skiing, snowshoe trips and backcountry ski trips guided by the volunteers of the Soumen Latu association that come to Kiilopää to stay there for two or more weeks receiving free accommodation for their services. The trips were free of charge, you only had to rent the necessary equipment in the rental shop at the main building for a reasonable price—e.g a pair of snowshoes and poles for 10 € per day.
Perfect winter vacation: snow and sauna
The trips would take you to the area around which offers a lot of variety: dense forests with deep snow, prepared tracks for nordic skiing or you could go above the treeline on top of the Kiilopää—the 600m high mountain that the center is named after. Usually you would start in the morning around 10—that's when breakfast ends—and be home in the early afternoon—it got dark around 1500—to take a nap and then go to the sauna. And even with sauna there is variety: you have the normal finnish sauna in the cabin with an electric oven, it heats up quickly to 100° and you can set it up in advance, to time it perfectly for your return. But there is also smoke sauna, a big sauna for roughly 30 people that is warmed at noon with a open wooden fire which heats up a big pile of stones that keep the warmth for hours. The smoke sauna can then be used between 1500 and 2000 and has a totally different heat which is less intense and you can stay there for three hours—once in a while you will go out and take the dip, a small pond that is kept ice-free by a flowing water source and has a temperature of around 1°. It sounds scary at first, but it's actually a great feeling, especially when your feet start to freeze to the ground after leaving the water …
The codefreeze unconference
To be honest, we never planned to make this trip about the conference, it was a great occasion to be there but it was clear that this would be more of a leisure trip, which is why I didn't make this trip on the company budget. But we had three and a half days, starting on Monday afternoon where we had a proper unconference, you can see for yourself on the trello board for the week, given the small group—around 20 attendees—we still managed to fill the timetable with a great variety of topics. But a lot of discussion happened outside of the sessions and that's what made it especially great to be here. Although you had so many outdoor activities, everybody would always return to the main building for food, or the sauna, or some of the cabins where the discussions continued or new topics arised.
For me it was the best conference experience I could imagine and it was also the best winter vacation I ever had. We will definitely return to Kiilopää and not only during codefreeze season but also in the summer, to hike in the woods there from hut to hut. I'm very grateful for Aki adding this experience to my life. I will never forget my first codefreeze.