Inari, Finland

The Wackiest Race on the Top of the World

Last Preparations
Jockeys position themselves in the Kings Cup starting box, Porokuninkuusajot.
to the millimeter
Reindeer race (Porokuninkuusajot) held over the icy surface of Lake Inarvi.
jockey 1
Jockey number 1 waits outside the starting box.
On the Run II
Running stray reindeer after jockeys fall during Kings Cup Kings Cup - Porokuninkuusajot
effort to 2
Reindeer breeders immobilize one of them against one of the posts used to trap them during the Kings Cup or Porokuninkuusajot competition
To Millimeter II
Jockeys and Reindeer Leading in the Lead of a Kings Cup Playoff or Played Moment of a Kings Cup Playoff, or Porokuninkuusajot.
Sami Elegance
Young Sami woman protected from the arctic cold in traditional costumes.
Participant about to cross the finish line in an individual speed heat.
Point of view
Reindeer breeder watches the action from the top of his snowmobile.
on the run
Race stray reindeer, after jockeys fall, flees to the side of the Kings Cup crowd - Porokuninkuusajot
Sami Fashion
Reindeer owner dressed in fox fur.
To Millimeter III
Curved phase of the race seen from behind.
Arctic comfort
Child sheltered in a sled on the icy surface of Lake Inari.
in the front
Played moment of a Kings Cup qualifier, or Porokuninkuusajot.
expectant reindeer
Jockey with the reindeer you will be driving, in the Kings Cup starting box or Played moment of a Kings Cup qualifier, or Porokuninkuusajot.
The Owners' Last Intervention
Owners and breeders pull their reindeer into the Kings Cup, Kings Cup, or Porokuninkuusajot starter box.
Finland's Lapps have been competing in the tow of their reindeer for centuries. In the final of the Kings Cup - Porokuninkuusajot - , they face each other at great speed, well above the Arctic Circle and well below zero.

“How is it possible to drive at such speed on a completely icy road? These spiked tires were a really special invention weren't they, Timo, but what if some reindeer shows up?”

“I've already noticed that they're scared back there. That's it OK, I'm going slower but don't worry, this is a protected area”.

We don't immediately understand what the owner of the Korpikartano hotel is referring to, but we approach a cement mixer that rotates non-stop and spins red flags attached to it.

The host goes on to explain. “The road is not under construction. Some time ago, someone thought of creating that contraption and realized that it made a great reindeer device.

They hear the noise of the stones inside and immediately flee into the forest. Reindeer are very particular animals. But they already get to know more about them. We are almost there!"

We had left Menesjarvi half an hour before and were already heading along Lapland's largest lake, Inari, on whose shores the most important Sami settlement is located.

We passed the A-shaped church, the new parliament and the entire small center of the small town. Timo cuts to the Inari Village stronghold and, no sooner have we left his red huts behind, we come across a makeshift parking lot. “Well, this is where I leave you”, he informs us. “The enclosure is further forward. Have fun!".

Sami Woman, Kings Cup Porokuninkuusajot, Inari, Finland

Young Sami woman protected from the arctic cold in traditional costumes.

The Early Arrival at Lake Inari

We went through the hundreds of vehicles distributed over the icy surface of the lake, which extends for 80 by 50 km, with about 3.300 km of coastline and is home to 3000 islands, some of them sacred to the indigenous people.

It's still early. The blue sky contrasts with the predominant white and the sun is at its best, but in the middle of the arctic winter, the temperature is around -19º. Taking into account the records from the previous days and the total absence of clouds, we don't expect the day to heat up any further.

According to meteorology, the small fair of stalls and caravans that has been installed in the area sells a little of everything for the cold: huge animal fur or wool caps, colorful suits, socks, camouflage and hunting traps, fatty food and hyper-caloric or simple boiling black coffee.

We explore the stalls with Mediterranean curiosity among a growing crowd of largely northern Finns. Sami, some in their folk costumes, others in conventional clothes but all with very light skin, eyes and hair and flushed cheeks.

Handpicked Reindeer and their Breeders Sami

Behind this fair, we find the reindeer zone. There are gathered, there, dozens of numbered specimens, attached to a forest of posts that skirt around frightened by the passage of humans and worried about their fate.

The Porokuninkuusajot (Kings Cup) is the grand final, the race of the year. Despite the superior category of the event, they give us permanent access to the animals' enclosure, like other curious foreigners who scrutinize them with false veterinary eyes and try to understand the care and procedures given by the jockeys, owners and handlers.

Handlers and Reindeer, Porokuninkuusajot Reindeer Race, Kings Cup, Inari, Finland

Reindeer breeders pin one of them against one of the posts used to trap them during the Kings Cup or Porokuninkuusajot competition.

However, the crowd gives rise to a respectful assistance lined up along a low rope. On the opposite side are all those involved in the competition. Reindeer are capricious and fearful animals.

So that its performance cannot be harmed by the public, there is hardly anyone beyond the projection of the start and finish lines of the long track, marked in a U-shape with simple sticks stuck in the snow.

Joquei e Reindeer, Reindeer Race Kings Cup or Porokuninkuusajot, Kings Cup, Inari, Finland

Jockey with the reindeer you will drive, in the Kings Cup starter box, or Porokuninkuusajot.

Jockeys with Youth Figures

The action is about to start. The jockeys warm up their muscles and tendons, take their positions in the pits of the starting structure and wait for the animals with which they form a team.

Finishing Jockeys, Reindeer Racing Porokuninkuusajot, Kings Cup-Inari, Finland

Jockeys position themselves in the Kings Cup starting box, Porokuninkuusajot.

They are boys and girls, by law, over 15 years old and 60km (including equipment), as a rule, the slimmest, lightest and most suitable for that job in their communities. We see them, side by side, contemplating each other with disguised rivalry or conversing through the open visor of their sophisticated helmets.

Meanwhile, the owners or handlers pull the reindeer from the stable and, with the help of the jockeys, try to get them into their respective compartments, a task that gives rise to falls and hilarious confusion.

Reindeer owners, Kings Cup Porokuninkuusajot, Inari, Finland

Owners and breeders pull their reindeer into the Kings Cup, Kings Cup, or Porokuninkuusajot starter box.

Tucked into the small red corrals, with only the trunk protruding from its top, a haughty and solitary judge oversees the regularity of events under the cover of an enormous gray furry cap that leaves only part of his face exposed and his bulky glasses.

The competitors are finally prepared. The judge checks them one last time and opens the hatches that hold the reindeer.

A Long, Exhausting Tour of Inari's Frozen Lake

These dart wildly onto the track and tow the jockeys in a fragile balance on skis. Participants raise a cloud of snow and disappear in three times in the distance.

Reindeer Racing, Kings Cup, Inari, Finland

Jockeys and Reindeer Leading in the Lead of a Kings Cup Playoff or Played Moment of a Kings Cup Playoff, or Porokuninkuusajot.

Deprived of binoculars, like the general public, we remain unaware of what is going on, until the fastest competitors win the curved part of the course and appear to dispute the final straight.

Glorious Victories, Simple Defeats and the Inevitable Downfalls

Part of the crowd is enthusiastic about the imminent victory of those who support it. The rest, resign themselves to the bad performances or lament the luck that did not smile on theirs. Everyone knows the humiliation of the worst defeats. Even when towing jockeys, reindeer reach 60 to 80 km/h.

Reindeer Pull Jockeys, Porokuninkuusajot Reindeer Race, Kings Cup, Inari, Finland

Contested moment of a Kings Cup qualifier

They often run close to each other or on less favorable trajectories. They cause the downfall of less prepared jockeys and flee to the immensity of Lake Inarijarvi, forcing retrievers on snowmobiles to undertake complex chases to bring them back to their owners.

Streaked Reindeer, Bend Reindeer Racing-Reindeer Racing-Kings Cup-Inari-Finland, Kings Cup, Inari, Finland

Running stray reindeer after jockeys fall during Kings Cup Kings Cup – Porokuninkuusajot

Depending on the distance to the finish line and their mood, the jockeys can return on foot or hitchhiking. It is also up to them the arduous mission to hide their disappointment in front of the public, family and rivals. But history does not tell the weak. Let's focus on the winners.

It was something that, entertained with the most fascinating secondary aspects of the event, we didn't always manage, all too often lost from the logic of the great chronometer installed next to the finish line and the classification.

Target in sight, Reindeer race, Kings Cup-Inari-Finland

Participant about to cross the finish line in an individual speed heat.

A final test takes place and the suspense increases. When it's over, family, friends and other members of the audience surround a man in a dark suit and white bonnet and congratulate him effusively with goodies and prolonged hugs.

Reindeer Breeder, Reindeer Racing Porokuninkuusajot - Kings Cup, Inari, Finland

Reindeer breeder watches the action from the top of his snowmobile.

Highlight to the Champions: the Jockey, the Reindeer and the Creator

The winner is Länsman Anni. His Reindeer Annintähti guided by the jockey Uula Petteri Somby had covered 1 km in 1:17, 34 and the 2 km in 2:29,22.

The results were some way off the world record of 1:13 seconds for 1000 meters but winning the Kings Cup is worth more than any record and the season had ended in glory for the cooperative of Kaldoaivi, with several participants in the top ten places.

Gradually, the crowd disbands. The figure of a reindeer owner who wears an eccentric combination of leather and fox furry fur, crowned by a cap that peeks over the head of a juvenile specimen of that canid, stands out.

Breeder, reindeer race Porokuninkuusajot, Kings Cup , Inari, Finland

Reindeer owner dressed in fox fur.

We photograph the man and the fox and rehearse an occasion dialogue, but in these northern reaches of Lapland, only the youngest speak English and we are forced to give up.

Still, we make the native even more proud of their look. Afterwards, we continue to follow the slow disarming of the event until the sun goes down, the wind starts to blow and the temperature drops dramatically. We don't have clothes or shoes that can last us much longer on that lake.

With no alternatives, we follow in the footsteps of the last resisters towards the cozy and saving cabin of Inari Village. At the reception, the owner and manager welcomes us, amazed that we are back almost at night: “I see you liked it. It's a big competition isn't it?”

In these parts, everyone is crazy about the Kings Cup and are very lucky to sleep here. I already told you that we have all cabins booked on race days for the next 25 years, right? It's just for them to get a more concrete idea”.

Inari, Finland

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Inari, Finland

The Babel Parliament of the Sami Nation

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Boats on ice, Hailuoto Island, Finland.
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autumn in the caucasus

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