Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Good Times in the Dot-Kom Bubble

Last week I was in Moscow to talk about the benefits of open Internet. And, of course, I wanted to check out the local skiing scene. Fortunately, as I was leaving, СНЕЖ.КОМ offered indoor skiing on the way to the airport. Country #48 is therefore Russia.

I'm sure Russia would have even more interesting things in the real mountains, but in April the local hills around Moscow no longer had snow. And I would not have had time for an excursion further away.

But no worries, СНЕЖ.КОМ gave me an opportunity to ski for two hours. Its basic design is similar to many others; an elevated tube. Or bubble :-) that gently slopes towards the sky on pillars. The vertical difference in this case was 70 meters, reaching the level of nearby 25-storey apartment buildings.

Two ski lifts serve the ski run, one chair lift and one anchor lift. The main ski run is straight, steeper in the upper parts and then levelling off. There's a nice snow park on the side with rails, jumps, and an huge air-filled pillow for landing from a crazier jump. (I wish I'd dare try to something like that, but not today at least. What scared me most was the gap between the jump and the landing site. Wouldn't want to land short.)

The main ski run is not very steep. This is typical of many indoor ski places, as they cater mostly for the beginner skiers. The upper part is decent though, you can make good turns and build up some speed. I have noticed that twisted, turning design on the indoor slopes is better for both advanced and beginner skiers, as one side of the slope can be steeper than the other one. Nevertheless, СНЕЖ.КОМ is a good place to ski at, and fares better and larger than most other indoor ski places.

The place is otherwise well run, clean, efficient, and a pleasure to visit. There are easy-to-use lockers for all visitors. There are also 3-4 gear and clothing stops, a Subway restaurant outside, and inside a full-service bar and restaurant. I stopped by for a quick lunch. All menus are in Russian, however, so I wasn't quite sure what to order. In finally got a sandwich, and a hot chocolate. The hot chocolate was really hot chocolate, by the way, in a cup. With a separate cup of water or milk to mix with chocolate. Very good.

Interestingly, as I was taking photos of the building from the outside, an uniformed security person showed up to stop me. And remove all photos from my camera. Communication was difficult, "tourist" did not seem to do the trick, nor did the deletion of the most recent photo. Fortunately, someone else showed up and started commanding the security person about tourists being able to take photos. He was headed to СНЕЖ.КОМ; perhaps a worker or manager. Anyway, my day and photos were saved by that stranger. Thank you!

And overall, with the exception of too much traffic on Moscow's roads, I had a nice visit. Met with many people, from Internet specialists to skiers. Friendly bunch. Good times in vodka shots evenings as well :-)

(To reach out to СНЕЖ.КОМ go to snej.com, while we await for .КОМ to appear as a new top-level domain.)

Photos and videos (c) 2015 by Jari Arkko. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

One of those rounds

This is how we do ski lifts in Finland. I wanted to give you a taste of one round of the 24-hour ski competition in Ylläs, Finland. As if doing 30+ miles of vertical in one day wouldn't be enough.

This is unique, and not just because of the competition. Only two sauna gondolas exist, and only the one here in Ylläs is on a running ski lift. And even they have not used it for mixing proper sauna sessions with skiing.

Ylläs 24h competition begins today Saturday at 2pm. There is still time to join!

Thank you Katri and Mikko and the lifties for making this story possible.

Update: Competition in Progress

The competition is now in progress. Here are some pictures from the competition:

The sun is setting in the evening:

The darkest part of the competition is of course the early hours of the day. It is dark, you do not see many people, if any (depending on how you happen to hit the gondolas with respect to other competitors). The sunrise is a very much awaited event after the night, but this time the sunrise was also very beautiful:

Update: Done!

The competition is over, and getting rid of the ski clothes and the boots that I wore for about 25 hours is a relief. But I am hurting everywhere. Feet. Calves. Knees. Thighs. Butt. Stomach muscles. Arms. Hands. Nose (from sun). Neck. Back.

Even with having just woken up from a 12-hour sleep that I started right after the results ceremony, I feel my body was really strained in the 24 hours. But it felt good to do it, and after some days of rest my muscles will feel good and be stronger from the experience.

The competition was mostly smooth running, except for one incident for my fellow competitor Edwin. At some point the organisers decided that they want to slow us down and started putting up a net fence to guide us to the other side of the slope. However, this happened in the middle of the night, in the middle of the slope, in the darkest corner of the otherwise relatively well lit slope, right through the track that we had already been running for hours. I'm sure you can predict what happened.

A few of us saw them - me included - and went around, wondering what they were up to. But Edwin didn't see the barely visible net, just wondered why the two ski instructors were jumping frantically as he was speeding past. Bam, straight to the net. I'm very glad that he wasn't hurt, just a few minor burns in hands. But it must have been a major impact, at that point in the slope we would have been doing maybe 70-80 km/h, and he is a fast skier. Maybe the fastest among us. Fortunately he was able to continue. After getting untangled from the net, he was behind the rest of us two rounds. If it were not for this accident, Edwin for sure would have been past me in the end results, maybe others too.

Anyway, the results. The winning team was Ylläs Kota (121 rounds) and in the individual competition Leo Pasto (122 rounds). Congratulations, amazing results! I came third, with 120 rounds. And we all got wonderful prizes, from Head skis to backpacks and tickets. I got a 2016 season pass for Ylläs, which of course means that I still have to go skiing, even with all this pain in my muscles :-)

But perhaps more important than this that we all skied quite a lot, and in the end safely. But how much, exactly. My main goal in the competition was to break the 50 km barrier, and with my 51,600 meters of vertical I did! Very happy about that. For distance we skied more than 300 kilometres. We also skied quite fast. I did not have GPS on all the time, but I measured some of the runs. Even on the slowest route, Aurinkorinne, I measured 98 km/h on the steep part. And my first run down the Worldcup run was at 114 km/h.

I could also clearly feel the benefits of my new skis. Last year I used my general-purpose skis, and they start to twitch and become unstable at higher speed. The new ones, Atomic GS racing skis worked very well. They were very stable at any speed, and I was able to slide faster on the flat parts than those competitors that used general-purpose skis. However, the racing skis are also heavier, and in the final hours I my hands and feet were getting tired from carrying them, and on making the necessary skating pushes to get to the start of the slopes. More muscle needed, I think.

The full results can be seen below:

And now some pictures from the ceremonies. Here is Leo Pasto receiving his new Head skis:

And here are all the winners:

Meal "poronkäristys" (sautéed reindeer) after the competition:

Photos and videos (c) 2015 by Jari Arkko. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Volvo 740 Skis

I bet you have not heard of Volvo skis. I did not either, nor has the Internet. But today I am testingblue Volvo 740 skis that feel almost brand new, and taking them to the ski hill on my blue Volvo 740 car.

I would also like to know if today's skis are better than the ones from 1980s. Which ones are faster, my new Atomic racing skis or the Volvos? But first some history.

As noted, there is nothing about these skis even on the Internet. These "Genuine Accessories" are probably a model made on request of Volvo for marketing purposes. The skis come from Austria and have a Salomon sticker, but the sticker might have come from the installation - the skis have Salomon S437 bindings. Perhaps surprisingly, the bindings still work perfectly, despite decades of storage!

The manufacturer could be Salomon, but most likely some Austrian one. Perhaps Atomic, Blizzard, Fischer, Völkl, ... Does anyone have any information on this?

The skis are a donation from Mikko Vuola (thanks!). The Vuola family previously held a car dealership, Keskusautohalli, the first Volvo dealership outside Sweden, actually. The skis come from Mikko's uncle, Tauno Vuola. They have not been skied much on, based on the good condition they have perhaps been tested but not used actively. Mikko tells this story about his currently 88 year old uncle:

"Tauno was the second oldest of the brothers and a tough sportsman. Among other things, he won a ski jumping competition in Lieto, at a superior result of 33 meters. As he was putting on the skis before the competition, a couple of boys came up to him and predicted that it would be useless for him to participate. Tauno had asked who will win, and the boys said "Tauno Vuokka, of course". The boys knew about his reputation but did not recognise the man."

But how do the Volvo skis work today? Incidentally, the skis are almost the same length (195 cm) as my new Atomic racing skis (191 cm). They are also the same length as my old Head skis from the 1980s. Until they were stolen. In the 1990s I skied on 195 cm K2 Extremes.

The first experience with the Volvo skis is surprising. I have for a long time skied on shorter carving skis, and in the first turn I notice that I have to pay attention or else the longer skis will get tangled up with each other. My new Atomics, on the other hand, turn much easier due to their stiffness and slight carving form. But after some practice the Volvo skis seem fun to ski with as well. They also go well straight. Maybe not as well as the stiffer Atomics, but still. On the other hand, carrying the Volvos is much easier due to their lightness. And the Volvos are far more stable at speed than my usual 171 cm general purpose carving skis.

To test the skis, I ski the Kauniainen ski hill as fast as I can, straight down. With a GPS in my pocket on the first day I get 76 km/h on the Atomics. The speed is affected by wind and snow conditions; on my ski hill turns aren't really needed :-) The next day I used the Volvo skis. The test is complicated by the fact that the ski area personnel went home as they thought no one would show up in the rain. But of course I did, and now I had to walk up the hill. There was also strong headwind. After three runs I got the speed 66 km/h on the Volvos. Probably partially due to the headwind, however. The next day I try again, and get speeds in the upper 60s, and one measurement at the exact same speed as on the atomics, i.e., 76 km/h. I should note that the measurements are quite error-prone, given that I used an application on my Android phone rather than a decided GPS device. The 76 km/h result is possibly a few kilometres too high.

Nevertheless, the Volvo skis do work quite well, particularly in speed. They are close to the performance of my new racing skis on straight runs. On turns we'd probably see some bigger differences.

The skis are true Volvos - lasting for a long time and performing reliably and efficiently. Well done!

For the test, I first tried to use my new boots, but it turned out that I could not adjust the bindings on the Volvo skis enough to fit them. Fortunately, I my old Salomon SX 92 boots fit the bindings perfectly. And are of course more appropriate partners for the skis. These boots are still in great condition, and I used them for about 15 years from the early 1980s.

When skiing on the Volvos, I found out that I didn't really want to go change to the other skis because that would have required me to put on the not-so-easy-to-use modern boots. I really liked the back-loaded boots, and SX 92s were still very precise and powerful tools, just like the new ones.

I also noticed something similar to what my friend Catharina had experienced when she tried retro skiing a few weeks ago: it would have been good to have some 1980s clothing to go with all this great gear. However, those clothes are long gone, thrown away years ago.

Photos and videos (c) 2015 by Jari Arkko. The back-to-the-future graphics is by Garron. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Texas Ski Ranch

Howdy! Everything is big in Texas. Except maybe the ski areas. To be exact, there are no ski areas, just a snowboarding hill made of plastic. But, there is still plenty of sunshine, water, speed, and yes, plastic.

I was in a conference in Texas, and had spent a week and a half almost completely inside the hotel. It was time to do something else. Fortunately, my flights home were leaving 8pm, leaving me with plenty of time to explore on Saturday. I googled for skiing, and found nothing. Except for this: Texas Ski Ranch. The ranch is south from Austin, and it would take about four hours to drive there from where I was in Dallas.

But what would I find from the ranch? The ranch sports a small hill covered by blue plastic, cables for wake boarding on a small pond, climbing wall, boating pond, and beach chairs. And of course, friendly Texans and sunshine. Not to mention cowboy hats and boots (on me, at least).

In typical American fashion, the first thing you need to do here is to watch a safety video and sign a release form. But after that it gets more relaxed, no major worries about anything. I was able to use my skis on the plastic hill, for instance, got help with taking photos, the staff kept watering the slope to make it more slippery, and they even offered a bucket of soap to make it more slippery. The slope is relatively small and not very steep. The watering was definitely needed to ski or board down. But it was a fun experience. I suspect that liberal application of soap would increase the speed further.

After skiing and snowboarding, I tried wake boarding. This a new experience for me, and a lot of fun! At the ranch there are two cable tracks to do this: a straight practice cable, and a longer cable system that makes a loop. Both run at around 30 km/h, but the practice cable is easier to start with, as only one person is in the system at one time, and it starts softly. The looping system accommodates maybe dozen people, but starts with a jolt and requires the boarders to know how to make turns.

The practise cable was easy and I found the boarding to be a lot of fun. Surprisingly, I was able to get on the bigger system on the first try, but failed on the first turn. I did not realise I needed to make a broad turn to not lose speed. Instead, I thought I could just board the corner straight, but instead I got a new jolt when my handle started to go the other way. Faceplant to the water!

And when you fall inside the cable track, you have to cross it to swim back to the shore. I felt I really needed to swim faster than I did, with the oncoming boarders zooming past. But I made it to the shore.

I had no time to retry the looping track, as I had to get back to Dallas for my flights. I also had to skip testing the climbing wall and the bar. Maybe next time. It would have been fun to spend an entire day here, now I only had three hours or so. Although it was enough to burn my skin in the sunshine. All the necessary information for a visit can be found from the ranch website. A two hour ticket to any of the activities starts from around 20$, with prices increasing on weekends and for people who need to rent equipment. All activities require a separate ticket. Lessons are also available, as are summer camps for school kids. I can imagine this would be a fun place to spend a week or two in the summer vacation.

Pictures and videos (c) 2015 by Jari Arkko. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Port del Comte

A crazy idea, at the cost of only 150€. Fly to Algeria for a day trip. To ski. Credit card data filled in, ready to press the button to book these tickets. But then I decide to check the visa requirements.

That was the end of that plan, and time to go to plan B. I was staying in Barcelona and had a day off. Plan B was to drive to northern Spain, near the Pyrenees. There are a number of interesting places here, mostly in and around Andorra, but I had already been there. So I decided to go to a small local hill, Port del Comte. Of course, "local" is relative. It still had a respectable 380 meters of vertical and many slopes spread around the mountains.

And it was sunny. It would have been nice to have a bit more snow, but on the upper slopes there were some forests that were nicely skiable, and completely untracked. Perhaps because these areas were closed due to lack of snow, but with care you could still ski them quite well. In particular, the El Bosquet "FREE SKY AREA" :-) next to the Bófia chairlift was nice. This forest is not too thick, and can be skied if you pay attention to your route. If it gets too thick, veer left to the lift track or right to the piste.

There are also suitable steep red runs, such as El Llop, to the skier's left from the El Sucre chairlift. At the bottom of the El Sucre lift there is a nice hot dog station, by the way. Recommend in sunny weather.

The most interesting views and runs are from the main lift El Querol, however. In particular, the blue run La Rasa Coma turns nicely and runs for over three kilometres.

At the bottom of the main slopes there are multiple hotels, some shops, and the usual cafeteria restaurants. I chose to eat further up at the Refugi Bages. This is a large stone hut at the top of the children's slopes. Their food is basic, but very good, and they gladly served me even when they were closed. (I had to get back to Barcelona, so I could not wait until they re-opened for dinner.)

Lower down, not next to the slopes is the actual Port del Comte village.Here you will find more accommodation, including a spa hotel. However, the spa hotel did not serve food during their closed period, so I did not try that.

The snow patrol apologised for lack of snow when I talked to them. This year has been exceptional even in Spain. Yet it had recently snowed a lot in the nearby Andorra.

At Port del Comte, the whole area of L'Estivella was closed, along some black runs that I wanted to try. But L'Estivella really had no snow. There were a couple of other places that were closed and did have snow, like El Bosquet or Els Galls; the ski patrol was alert, however, and were quick to shout when I skied past closed signs. I didn't stop :-)

A nice, relaxed ski area to visit. You will find more kids and beginners here than experts, but there is also a little bit of expert terrain. And very few other experts to compete for those fresh tracks.

Photos and videos (c) 2015 by Jari Arkko. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi.

Monday, March 16, 2015


The end is near. Of the winter. My friend Jarne suggested that I visit Meri-Teijo, but the ski area closed just a couple of days before I arrived, due to the spring-like weather we've had for some weeks. This did not stop me from visiting, however.

What I found very interesting. One of my favourite ski areas in southern Finland is Peuramaa, and Meri-Teijo reminds me a lot of that. Both are small, but they have many different runs, all with very different slope profiles. Meri-Teijo has altogether twelve interesting runs, amazing given that it is one of the most southern ski areas in Finland, and right next to the sea.

Some of the slopes go straight down, some that slide through forests in a leisurely manner, some that go around cliffs. And both are surrounded by golf courses. A very nice area, with plenty of good skiing and opportunities to explore the terrain. The vertical difference is 80 meters, which is good for a ski area near the Finnish coast. The longest ski run is 640 meters.

I hiked a couple of times up and down in the sunny weather. There was still plenty of snow to ski. Recommended for good exercise, and I should return to this place next year. In the meanwhile, the ski area (or "Action Park" as they call it) sports also downhill cars, mountain-biking, hiking in the national park next door, paintball, ...

And of course, golfing. It seemed like the green golf course and the golfers were about to take over the white winter.

Photos and videos (c) 2015 by Jari Arkko. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ski Vacation in Grani

How about a ski vacation in an exclusive village that has generated numerous worldcup skiers? I'm sure it sounds good until I mention the 50-meter vertical difference and rain.

I happened to be home during the ski vacations week, and I thought it would be fun to ski every day. Not full days... I had to work. But at least an hour or two every day. I had also taken my skis to be serviced (to Skiservice in Pitäjänmäki), and decided to buy new racing skis for the faster runs. I very much wanted to try them out.

I had a surprising amount of fun. Pure skiing, not many other things. I was able to use all time for the skiing itself. My skis were always in the car, my ski clothes strategically placed on the middle of the living room floor. I took me three minutes to put them on. Another three minutes to drive to the slope, and then some time to put on the boots. Still, I was in the ski lift ten minutes after making the decision to go.

I also bought a season pass. At 195€ this was as much as a ski pass for a long weekend on the alps. But even if I am not looking at costs, it is an extremely easy solution. I can just show up and ski, no need to queue up or carry a wallet.

Except for the first day, the weather was gloomy, grey and rainy. But even if skiing the full day in rain will get to you, and will eventually make at least some of your clothes wet, in good clothes you do not even notie the rain if you only ski for an hour or two. And you will not get overly tired.

And even if the slope is small, it was fun to ski. One round is about two and half minutes. Two minutes to go up, ten seconds ski down, and some time for entering and leaving the ski lift.

And the skis. I have always had skis that get a bit restless in higher speeds. They start to fidget. But my new skis, Atomic 191cm Race D2 GS skis run like a train on their 27-meter turn radius. Although I wasn't sure if they would be easy to ski otherwise, to make turns other than those fitting their natural form. Perhaps it was a bit harder than on my regular skis, but still OK. Perhaps us older skiers have been trained well in the pre-carving era. (That's 5400 BC for you youngsters.)

But above all, the small hill is fun because there's a special feeling. It is not a commercial operation. It is not from the same mold as all other ski areas. This year, Grani has grown from one lift to three. A new, fast button lift is on the right side for the competitors and training, and a new beginninger rope tow on the left. The slope is full of tiny kids from three or four years upwards. And there are often races, like this Sunday when they held the Suomi-Slalom competition, a national circuit of local hill competitions. Every year 500 kids are trained in the GrIFK ski school. The team has 15 FIS-accredited skiers.

The only potential cause for complaint is that I rarely see adults in the slope. During the week there was only one other (non-teacher) adult, and I think she may have been the mother of one of the kids on the hill :-) And when I bought my season's pass at the Café Alpenhütte, they asked if it is really for me. Oh well. Even us adults can ski this small hill. I take it as practice and exercise. It is one thing to ski every day than to make one trip per year. We should use the possibilities we have!

Finally, did you know how fast you can go on such a small hill? Without trying very hard, I got 75 km/h at the bottom. No turns, and in downhill position, but also not pushing. It should be easy to improve on this result. (By the way, this was measured when there were no other people on the hill. Speed is dangerous. Be careful out there!)

Photos (c) 2015 by Jari Arkko. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi.