The municipality is unilingually Finnish.
Kuusamo is a major center for winter sports and receives approximately a million tourists every year. One of the largest ski resorts in Finland, Ruka, is situated in Kuusamo. Ruka is also the host of many international competitions in ski jumping, cross country skiing and Nordic combined. The 2005 World Championships of Freestyle Skiing was held in Kuusamo. Kuusamo Airport is located 6 kilometres (4 mi) north-east from Kuusamo town centre.
Until the 17th century, the area of Kuusamo was inhabited by the semi-nomadic Sami. During the cold season they lived in the villages Maanselkä and Kitka. In spring they moved to the rivers and in summer, after the melting of the ice, to the lakes; there they fished and gathered berries and mushrooms; in autumn they hunted reindeer, bears and beavers in the forest. Apart from fishing and hunting the Sami earned their living by trading fur with the Finns settled on the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia and the Karelians of the White Sea coast.
As a Sami settlement the area belonged to Kuusamo Kemi-Lappmark at the time. Nominally it belonged to the territory of the Swedish province of Västerbotten, but the Swedish rule was limited to the collection of taxes. At the same time Russia collected taxes in the territory it deemed state-less.
From the 15th century Finnish fishermen also took advantage of fishing grounds on the lower reaches of the river Iijoki near Kuusamo. They took regular trips of a few weeks from Kuusamo, but because the land could not provide hay for cattle other than near the river, they founded no fixed settlements. Only when, in 1673, the Swedish government granted all settlers in Lapland a tax exemption for 15 years, did settlers from Savo and Kainuu settle in Kuusamo. They practiced slash and burn as a form of shifting cultivation. This put the Sami's hunting way of life at risk. Within a few decades the Sami population was assimilated or ousted by the Finnish settlers. By 1718 there were only two Sámi families in Kuusamo, who had already adopted the Finnish language.