The group skiing the one-week Border to Border ski tour in the northern wilderness from the eastern border in Kuusamo to the western border in Tornio will be even more international than before. While in the first years the ski tour was carried forward by Finns, the share of foreigners has since then increased to be larger than the number of Finnish participants.
Leila and Väinö Voutilainen have participated in the ski tour every year for over 20 years. They recall the time when Border to Border was still in its infancy: "We were 22 brave skiers at the Kuusamo bus station on the Sunday morning of March 10, 1984. The bus took us to the eastern border and so we set off uphill the Saunavaara slope. There was also Lutz from Germany, who became fond of skiing and whom we visited when we were on a hiking trip in Germany. In the first ten years the route passed through the municipality of Posio and was approximately 370 kilometres. Our little group skied persistently at the same pace with the slowest skier – we had after all come to ski together. We had not skied such long distances before, but we became enthusiastic about skiing and have returned over and over again!"
In the first years there was shortage of participants. In the second year there were only 16 brave skiers under Kauko Salmela’s guidance. The following year a campaign was launched to recruit more participants and the continuation of the ski tour was secured by 59 participants. The weather can vary considerably within one week. Leila and Väinö Voutilainen remember particularly the winter of 1986, which was one of the hardest: "There was storm wind, wet snow fell from the heavens all day long, the track disappeared in no time and snow stuck to the ski bottoms. On the week’s longest day we skied 65 kilometres in a hard storm and wet snow fall. The last skiers arrived in the Ylikärppä school in Simo at nine in the evening, escorted by snowmobiles who lit the way with their lights. It was pouring rain when we arrived in Tornio. In the last day we tried to ski in line in order for us all to arrive at the same time, although it was a wrench to ski in a queue led by the slower ones."
The number of participants settled to the level of 50 skiers. It was only in the 1990s that the foreigners truly found the event. There were French, Italian, Swiss, German, Dutch, Austrian and even some Japanese participants. In 1991 there were already nearly 100 skiers. For a few years there was a separate group for foreigners.
In 1994 the Border to Border ski tour was moved to a new route. Posio was left aside and the route to Ranua was directed through Taivalkoski and Pudasjärvi. The last part to Tornio via Simo and Keminmaa remained mostly unchanged. The length of the route was now 444 kilometres, which posed challenges for the endurance of the skiers. The number of participants kept on increasing and in 1996 skiers were divided in two different
groups. The first group departed from Kuusamo on Saturday and the second group on Sunday. This eased the rush in accommodation and resting places. The entrepreneurs in the region’s tourism industry also welcomed the reform. The accommodation takes place in hotels, huts, youth hostels and schools, bringing along variety to the circumstances during the tour week.
The ski tour attained more and more friends every year. In 1998 the Slovenians came for the first time and have ever since been regular participants. Central and Southern Europe have been well represented every year. In recent years the number of participants from the USA and Canada has been increasing. The mounting pressure forced the organisers to add the third ski group in 2001. Even this was not enough and the fourth group was added in 2005.
The Border to Border ski tour has established its position as a major ski and tourism event in northern Finland. Firstly, foreigners are attracted to the challenges for personal survival, and secondly to the harsh but beautiful northern nature. Leila and Väinö Voutilainen sum up their own motivation to participate in the ski tour: "The event gives a suitable amount of physical challenges and exercise for a week. The arrangements have been excellent from the beginning. The fellow skiers have been a tremendous crowd and many friendships have been established. Messages are sent throughout the year and also visits have been made. We have received many good exercise tips and information about different events around the world. We remember especially the difficult days and hard weathers when you can think with pride that we made it again. It has been interesting to meet skiers from different parts of the world and to exchange ideas with them. This has inspired us to improve language skills and even to study a new language. Border to Border ski tour has become a tradition for us and we hope that we keep fit to participate for many years to come."