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Reindeer Games

My friend ignored my first nine emails suggesting we visit the Norwegian wilderness in December. But then she remembered who she was dealing with, and I—like a dog with a bone—was unlikely to give up on northern lights, dog sledding and sleeping in a heated tent.

She had reason to be concerned. The weather website we consulted provided helpful astronomical information such as: sun does not rise. But I was undeterred and eventually she relented.

Beware that people will look at you with a mix of concern and pity when you tell them that you are spending your winter holiday in Norway. But just indulge them with a shrug and a smile. Say something glib like, “It’s only a week, right?” And know that after their memories of the mega-resort have faded, you will have vivid dreams of dancing aurora and dogs ready to run.

Start by heading to Tromso, Norway, the northern-most city in the region. This is the jumping off point for a host of outfitters who will accommodate your winter wanderlust. We opted for a multi-day Lyngsfjord Adventure package that included the following:

• A guided evening walk in hopes of seeing the Northern Lights (we did, but there’s no guarantee—although 2012 is predicted to be a hot year for aurora activity) with Roy, who competently and patiently set every amateur photographer’s camera to the optimal settings to capture the phenomenon.

• A cultural lecture with a Sami reindeer herder, lasso throwing lesson (no actual reindeer will be lassoed, both because you aren’t that good and because he won’t let you annoy his reindeer), and a charming reindeer sledding experience.

• A snowmobile safari, in which (after a three-minute explanation of how to drive a snowmobile) you are given the keys to your own personal Arctic hotrod and set loose. Well, loose to follow the very responsible guide who will try to keep you from doing anything too stupid.

• Dog sledding! Full disclosure: I am a “dog person”. But I don’t think that’s a requirement to enjoy the hell out of this experience. Barking, lunatic canines turn into intense, skilled athletes as soon as the brake is released. And then there is just running and gliding through the half-lit wilderness.

At Lyngsfjord’s Camp Tamok, we ate no less than six meals of stew. It came in fish and reindeer varieties. It’s not a gourmet destination, but you won’t go hungry—unless you don’t like stew. And here’s a tip: the tent is only snug if you set an alarm to feed the fire every couple of hours.

The upshot is, even if you live in a cold place, the experiences to be had on an Arctic winter adventure are truly unforgettable. This isn’t a dark morning commute or a car that needs to be warmed up. It’s a passel of dogs who want nothing more than the green light to whisk you through their world. It’s an otherworldly light show—or the hopes of one. It’s a chance to meet delightful strangers who share your urge to stray just a little “off piste”. 

My friend thanked me multiple times for sending that tenth email.

Gretchen Lyons is an enthusiastic amateur Trufflepig who just had more pages added to her passport.

It's a passel of dogs who want nothing more than the green light to whisk you through their world.

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