Saturday, December 6, 2014

Holy - Pyhä

"This is your last chance, Neo. You take the white door—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the orange door —you stay in the Holy land, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I'm offering is the truth. Nothing more."

But what Morpheus left out is that there is a third door, the dark door. One that leads to the true reality, the hard darkness.

This is a story of those three choices in Pyhä. Holy, as it is called in English, is a special place far up beyond the arctic circle. So special that national ski teams from all over the world flock to it at this time of the year. So far up north that those who like night skiing can enjoy it all day long.

The three doors are at the race start hut, at the 540 meter top of Pyhätunturi. The white door leads to a strangely mixed world, the yin & yang domain. A icy run straight down the mountain with high-speed race tracks showing the way. But it is also lined with safety nets, it is access controlled, groomed and cared to perfection that does not exist on the other side of the safety net. The black Piste Palander. It is also the way home, to the bed in Hotel Pyhätunturi.

The orange door offers a warm contrast to the harsh, controlled white world. A domain of fun. It embraces everyone. It is always open. It leaves you in charge of selecting your destiny in the arctic scenery. The red Polar Runs. And yet it keeps you in its grip, funnelling you through that final steep that slings you back to the base at high speed.

But the black door opens up the ultimate reality. The door to everything else. Even the orange world exists in a bubble of human control. A bubble of light, for instance. If you back away from the two orange and white doors, you'll find yourself in the completely open domain. Darkness. Thin and uncertain snow cover. Rocks. I found this domain the most interesting, even if there was indeed very small amount of snow. My skis kept hitting the rocks and I had to watch where I'm going. I enjoyed a ski run in the fresh snow on the closed Blue Run, the area between the Blue run and the Polar Runs, and the Hotel Runs, a rocky area above the hotel.

The possibilities are infinite; it was too early in the winter to enjoy all those possibilities, but there are big mountain class off-piste runs and ice climbing, for instance. Recommended! Note that Pyhä is unlike most other places in Finland, in that there are big mountain dangers as well, including falls and avalanches. Be careful out there.

I really liked Hotel Pyhätunturi, by the way, for its location among the beautiful trees on the steep side of the mountain. I should also mention that Tsokka - the restaurant at the top of the mountain - serves the most excellent soups and crepes. Reindeer meat features prominently on their menu. Also, in 1990s I was on a work trip at Pyhä, and it turned out that I could take my kid to the local community daycare while I worked, and then pick him up in the evening and ski the rest of the day. Everything seems to work well in this small mountain community.

Photos and videos (c) 2014 by Jari Arkko and Janne Arkko. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Grani Opened

Snow report for the Kauniainen ski hill: frozen dirt bumps, covered by a layer of rocks and pieces of two-by-fours. And a dusting of snow on top. Everything is ready for the season to start!

We finally got some snow in southern Finland. My old skis keep being used on sand and dirt, so Jarmo and I decided that it would be fun to open the season at Grani. There wasn't indeed much snow, but it is a start. Actually, the skis seemed to slide very well, although turning was at times difficult, if we happened to try that on top of those rocks or two-by-fours.

Seriously though, I'm hoping the real season begins soon. The snow cannons are already in place, just waiting for the cold weather to be turned on. And the ski cat is parked at the bottom and ready to go. Hopefully we'll get long-lasting cold weather.

The funny thing was that as we were skiing, a mountain biker speeded past us. Sport seasons are starting to overlap a bit. But more the merrier! In fact, we also saw joggers, Jarmo's son was sliding down the hill on a sledge, and we even saw a nordic walker (with sticks) at the top of the hill. For a moment we thought the walker was a skier who would make the season-opening ski run in front of us :-)

And, oh, some great news! The long-awaited 2nd lift is being built! The foundations are already in place, and the top of the hill has been heightened a bit to allow for the lift to bring people to the highest point also on the left side. Looking forward to the new lift. The large number of five year old (or younger) beginners on the slope means long waits on the current single lift.

Photos and videos (c) 2014 by Jari Arkko and Jarmo Ruuth. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Dos Ojos

I like lazy Saturdays. The ones with no meetings, and planes not leaving until the evening. And no plans, other than having a swimsuit and wanting to visit some natural pools in the warm weather. But I ended up seeing incredible cenotes, colours, and diving in the world's 3rd longest underwater cave.

Cenotes are natural sinkholes, and common in the Yucatán peninsula, Mexico, where I was. I rented a car and ended up going to Cenote Azul and Dos Ojos. What a wonderful world I found!

Unfortunately, I have no video nor other pictures than the three ones on this page (blue, green, and yellow). I did not know I was going diving, so I had not taken the waterproof case for my GoPro camera on this trip. (For what it is worth, I was carrying my skis, but found no dunes to ski on.)

So, for other than these pictures, you'll have to take my word for it. Dos Ojos is a set of interlinked cenotes, creating an underwater cave system more than 80 kilometres long. Obviously, with no dividing experience I could not explore the depths of this cave, but I was able to go snorkelling to the Bat Cave. This nearby cave can be reached by an easy 50 meter dive from one of the entrances of Dos Ojos.

The access is almost completely filled with water, just a few centimetres of air above the water. But it is easy to snorkel through with a guide. Although I kept hitting my head to the stalagmites. And if you've ever liked stalagmite caves, I'm sure you'll be able to appreciate how pretty underground stalagmites can be in crystal clear, blue cave waters with 100m+ visibility.

Photos (c) 2014 by Jari Arkko. Tämä blogi löyty myös suomeksi.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Death Valley

Death Valley, 5am. My skis have dislodged a layer of sand. The flow continues long after I have stopped. But at the moment fresh rattlesnake tracks in front of me scare me more than possible sand avalanches. My imagination races ahead. Perhaps I'd be lucky and the snake would sink its teeth onto my ski boots. Still, the idea of a fight with a twisting snake is repulsive. 

I can see myself grabbing the snake with hands, as it would try to loosen its teeth. Would the snake be slimy? How strong is it? Could it try to wrap itself around my legs? Body? Would the tail rattle in front my eyes? Or maybe the snake would just bite again, this time on my flesh. In the darkness, far away from civilisation it is easy to let fear control your mind. And while I am not sure if the tracks are snake tracks, there are rattlesnakes here. And I am here at their best time of the day, early in the morning. Before it gets too hot. At a spot where few tourists will wander into. The fears are too close to reality. If anything, I have been too optimistic, as the snakes would surely not miss the first bite.

I turn my skis towards the side, and decide not to ski too close to the bushes at the bottom of the slope. The snakes will not hide under the sand. Or do they? I try to run up the sand hill for safety, but the soft sand is difficult to climb. My boots sink in, and the sand falls down a bit on every step.

But eventually I get back to the dune ridge. And the sun is starting to rise, making the entire scenery red. It is also getting warmer, but not yet uncomfortably so. It is strange how light and temperature affect the state of your mind. My fears are starting to go away. I remember why I take these trips. To ski, of course, but not only that. On many trips the first morning light is the most memorable moment.

The view over the dunes is one of the most beautiful sceneries I have seen, even if I am not on a high mountain this time. This may in fact be the lowest place that I have skied at. The area is below sea level, although the top of the dunes probably raise slightly above sea level. This is also the hottest place that I have skied at, at least if I were to stay here for the day. The highest measured temperature in the world has been measured nearby, 56.7 degrees Celsius. Hikers are not recommended to be out on the desert after 10am.

I am at the Mesquite Flats sand dunes, near Stowepipe Wells, in the Death Valley National Park. There are plenty of stories of skiing in various dunes in Death Valley, but I have not found any stories about Mesquite Flats dunes. Only snow- or sand-boarding. Is this a possible first descent? I do not know.

I ski two runs. The first one is on the backside of the dunes, a long and steep run. But since I worry about the slides, I ski to the side and do not make more than a couple of turns. Getting stuck in the sand would be fatal here, in a place where the tourists do not usually come.

My other run is less steep, on the front side of the dunes. But it is easier to ski, and there are no dangers. I get up to some speed, and the skiing is fun. But I do not have enough speed to lose for making a turn. Interestingly, someone mentioned furniture wax would make skis slide better on sand. This may be something to try later, but I would not want to do that in this pristine environment.

Once I reach the bottom, I sit down, change into my regular boots, and take a drink. I realise that my backpack is far too heavy for this trip. In addition to the boots I have 3 litres of drinks with me. I only need half a litre, but the rest is for safety.

I stayed at the Stowepipe Wells Village, a nice but very basic hotel in Stowepipe Wells. Complete with a breakfast place, a saloon, and a swimming pool. And meagre Internet connectivity. Recommended for Death Valley trips!

The Death Valley can be easiest reached from Las Vegas. I flew in, rented a car, and drove two hours to get to the national park. The odd thing with Las Vegas, however, are those numerous slot machines that sit right at the gate upon your arrival. You can also find gambling between luggage carousels.

Sweating at the Death Valley:

Photos and videos (c) 2014 by Jari Arkko. Tämä blog löytyy myös suomeksi.

Saturday, September 20, 2014


I am usually dislike anything related to military, but I wanted to share a video where a local military surplus store is calling for Arnold Schwarzenegger to visit them. Varusteleka, is after all, the supplier of Planetskier's gas masks for the volcano trips.

Photos (c) 2013 by Jari Arkko. Video by Varusteleka.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Go Scotland!

Go Scotland! Great place, great people, and possibly soon a new, independent country. Vote wisely in today's elections!

I believe independence would be a good thing. Also, in addition to all the other benefits of being your own country, you would automatically add one to my list of skied countries, since I skied in Edinburgh two years ago.

The flag picture is from wikipedia and is in the public domain.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ice Bucket Challenge

In this week's episode of the Planetskier I participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge. Research on ALS and other serious diseases is very, very important. Please do all you can to support such research, for instance by donating ALSheart disease, or cancer research. And I would like to publicly thank those of my friends who have donated and who have taken the challenge, such as Ray and John. Thank you.

But I also want to say that most people are doing this challenge the wrong way. It should be an ice bucket challenge. See here how it is done right:

Photos and videos (c) 2014 by Jari Arkko and Olli Arkko