It was with some trepidation that I joined my first snowmobile tour into what looked like a frozen alien landscape. A place where no sensible person should tread. Sounds dangerous? Let me explain, I am a sailor. Happiest with a full main and perfectly trimmed Genoa and standing on a heaving timber deck. Preferably somewhere tropical.

On this day, however, Göran Widén, arctic adventurer, is explaining to us how we are going to take our snowmobiles, neatly lined in front of us at Brändön Lodge, out across the sea to visit some very interesting islands and the pack ice of the Baltic. Yup…..we would be lucky to survive.

Off we go!

Getting ready

After selecting our winter clothing the skills briefing was fun. These snowmobiles seemed quite easy to operate and mine even had heated handgrips. Göran and his fellow guide Patrik show us the requisite safety and driving tips and we head off into the wilderness. As you drive down onto the sea ice you wonder where this was going to end but to my shock it was easy. The snowmobiles are quite powerful and as we scoot across the flat ice and snow, I am already starting to wonder how fast this machine might go.

Patrik is well out in front showing us the way and we are spread out in a line along the ice. This was no trail ride, though. We were able to control our speed to level comfortable for us and there are a surprising number of small obstacles on the ice that we have to navigate. I start to look around and there is a vast expanse of flat sea ice in all directions. It is a little surreal knowing, having no true appreciation for the thickness of the ice, that we are crossing the sea and heading to a small island now closing in fast. Here we stop for a short break.

The surreal feeling as we close in on one of the islands is breathtaking.

Obvious silence

Göran signals turn off your machine. Suddenly the silence is obvious. Here, just south of the Arctic circle, out in the middle of 1300 islands where only about 100 people reside there are no sounds. No traffic, no horns, no people yelling. Just silence. ….and wry smiles on the face of Göran and Patrik. They have seen this awakening many times before as people enter their remote world.

Göran’s family is the owner of Brändön Lodge and Pine Bay Lodge and the tour to the pack ice is one of their most popular. Patrik, who we learn later has been a champion Swedish Skier, and Göran has an easy manner, very comfortable with each other and us. We are now relaxed and over our nervousness and looking forward to the rest of this four-hour adventure. Onward we make several stops such as this on the way out through the archipelago on our way to the pack ice with our guides providing information on local history and the surprising amount of wildlife that live here.

Wind and currents piles up ice to form ridges up to several metres high at the Bothnia Bay area.


Our stop for lunch is at Brändöskär. Translated to English this literally means Fire Island Islet. It is, in fact, a small island furthest out in the archipelago that, like the entire region, is rising up out of the sea at the rate of 1cm each year due to rebound still occurring after the last ice age. Here we find a very quaint small village of fisherman’s huts and very small summer cabins and amazingly a 300-year-old timber church.

Patrick and Göran set to make lunch over the open fire in a man-size frypan. Göran’s family has strong connections to this island. He points out the small homely features of the cabins including sauna’s that appear to be attached to each one. I think to myself that this must also be a paradise in summer as I sit on the snow and devour a local dish called suovas. Thinly sliced smoked reindeer meat cooked on the open pan with sour cream and local mushrooms called Chanterelle. Delicious.

The open sea

Here, past the outer islands, the sea ice is vast and stretches all the way to Finland. It moves though, with the changes in the wind direction. Today the pack ice sheets have moved up over the shallow shoals and created small mountains of ice. On other days you can see patches of open water, seals lying on icebergs and on other days these ice mountains can be pushed up to 10 meters tall. We sit here in awe for some time beside a small rocky outcrop where a small statue of Jesus stands welcoming home the fisherman and seal hunters of a bygone era.

Learn more

Learn more about ice pack safaris at Pine Bay Lodge by visiting

Not typical

This is not a typical tourist location. Here out in the Luleå archipelago, it is the few locals (including the ever increasing seal population) that pretty much have this place to themselves. It is unknown to much of the world and small groups such as ours can spend the day here without seeing a single another person.

I enjoyed this very genuine experience, rare in today’s world, and one where you are almost overwhelmed by the unspoilt beauty of the frozen Arctic and the friendliness of Patrik and Göran our local companions.

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