Every Easter the Sami host the World Reindeer Racing Championships. It is held at Kautokeino, a little Sami town just two hours east of Alta. Easter is a perfect time to have the event as there is plenty of snow and the sun is shining bright. (But you still have to keep moving otherwise your toes can turn into icicles.)
The championships is a cosy gathering in the centre of town. The race is on a small open plain. To warm you up before the race you can enjoy real Sami food in a Lavvo. The competition has youth and adult race divisions and even a special race for the Mayor. If you are a tourist (non-Sami) you also have a chance to race–the Tourist Division is one of the highlights of the day.
The serious competitors race on skis behind their reindeer. The reindeer are loaded into the starting booth and the competitors stand next to, holding the reins. Reindeer always have jumpy starts so the competitors only wrap the reins around their hands after the race begins, just in case the reindeer does something weird, and they need to let go. This makes for a lot of false starts as the reins often slip through the hands. For safety, the reindeer antlers are cut off (and I guess it helps with speed and agility too).
The tourists get a number and a ticket for the race. You have to jump up to the plate for your go otherwise you will miss your turn. If you have never skied before it’s no worries because tourists race on their butts using sleds. I guess it’s a lot safer to fall off when sitting down.
It is a load of fun watching the tourist class. Most don’t make it across the finish line–the reindeer seem to have other plans. If the tourist has a loose slack on the reins, the reindeer takes the opportunity to head for the hills. Sami then jump on their snowmobiles and race for the chase, doing tricks over the snow mounds. They are the real modern-day cowboys jumping off their scooters to tackle the reindeer and bring it back to base.
Soon it was my turn. I had good odds to win as only two had finished the race out of eleven (so far). I jumped on the sled and realised they hadn’t cut the antlers off my reindeer! But my animal was calm amongst the crowd–the others had been jerky and nervous with all the activity. With basic driving instructions from the Sami, I was ready to go.
My race started well. I was going like a bat-out-of-hell and then I thought ‘I love this too much!– so… why am I going faster?’
It dawned on me that the faster I went, the quicker my ride would be over. I started to wish my reindeer had a stronger will to head for the hills like the rest of them. But I finished the race in good time and health. And I was happy.
As it turned out I made a new world record (but my ‘rein’ was over five minutes later). Still, I can claim I was in the top ten at the World Reindeer 2008 Championships! Not bad for an Aussie.