Sunday, June 14, 2015

Skiing Africa... by Mule



Avalanche pack, check. Skis, check. Mule, check. I am sitting on a mule, on my way to the ski slopes in Oukaïmeden in the Atlas mountains of Morocco.

We are here, because Europe had a bad snow year. And I have to say, there is too much skiing in Africa. I was hoping that after Oukaïmeden, Lesotho, and South Africa, I'd be able to cross of the continent as fully skied. But no. There is another ski area in the far-away other end of Morocco, there are two ski areas in Algeria, there is snow on Kilimanjaro, and there is dune skiing in Namibia. Sigh, plenty to cover still.

Oukaïmeden is about two hours away from the city of Marrakesh and easily accessible. It is a busy snow town with tons of tourists and cars on the road. But most of the tourists have come for a day trip to experience the snow, a rarity for the locals. We only saw foreign tourists once. That is a loss, coming here was an amazing experience for us.

The village is fairly basic, with our hotel, the Chez Juju, being a rare exception in providing western-class accommodation. Most other buildings are bare stone huts. The rooms in Chez Juju are basic, but there's wireless that works if you ask the bartender to reset the router :-) And the food is magnifique! The French kitchen delivers amazing dinners, yet in local style. Much recommended.

But lets get back to the main topic: skiing. The Atlas mountains are some serious mountains, ranging all the way to the 4,167 meter Toubkal, visible from the ski area. We skied nearby, in the ski area's backcountry, offering easily accessible untouched snow. We run into a guy at the parking lot who offered to guide us, so for 20 $ we got a guide for the day. The exploration was still a bit unnerving, given that there were clearly some places where avalanches were a possibility. We skied one at a time and passed these points quickly. Exploring the highest peaks far beyond Oukaïmeden would be a far bigger effort, and will likely require you to bring your own guides and be completely self-sufficient.

The most interesting terrain was to the skier's right from the main lift. A set of couloirs and valleys visible from the lift offers a lot of skiable snow. Further to the right a steep couloir leads onto untouched snow fields. It can only be accessed by traversing steep to the right from from the very top of the lift.

Another interesting area is the ridge to the skier's left. This area leads back to the village, and the remains of ski lifts and structures show that it used to belong to the official slopes.

But even the official slopes under the current main lift are decent: 600 meters of difficult, steep, black run straight down.

But the most wonderful thing for me were the views. We were skiing on white snow, while the red mountains and hills falling below us were all red, with traditional Berberian villages often visible under us.

Oh, and why the mules? The village is next to the beginner lifts, but the main lift is about 2 kilometres away. The most convenient way to reach that lift was by mule. And I wanted to get a ride a on a camel, but unfortunately the camels were only available on lower altitudes.









 


 

 

 

Photos and videos (c) 2015 by Jari Arkko and Jarmo Ruuth. This blog is also available at Teton Gravity Research. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi. There's also a longer video about this trip from Jarmo.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

London Ice Climbing


Have ice axe. Will travel to London to go ice climbing. My cab driver thinks that is the weirdest thing he has heard his customers do. I think that if it is true, then his rides have been pretty boring.

But here I am, in a basement under Covent Garden, trying to climb overhanging ice. Can't remember when I climbed on ice the last time, it could be more than ten years. My skills have deteriorated, if I had any to begin with. And gained too many kilos. It is hard. And the ice is fresh, made yesterday. Tuesdays are the hardest climbing days, because the ice gets refreshed on Mondays. The route is solid ice.

I am at Vertical Chill, a climbing facility in the lower floor of Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports. It is minus six degrees Celsius, but I am sweating with the hard climb. And my light crampons are not suitable for this type of a climb. I'm sure I would have otherwise succeeded in passing the overhang :-)

There is one practice area and three main routes, the corner, straight up, and the overhang. There is also a dry tooling wall. The height is about 8 meters.

Vertical Chill offers one-hour climbing sessions at 50 £ per person or at 35 £ if you bring your own equipment. The price includes the instructor who will be belaying you. Recommended!

This must also be the only place where you can ice climb and use the free WiFi. Good for those selfies on the wall?









Photos and videos (c) 2015 by Jari Arkko, Alexa Morris, and Vertical Chill. Tämä blogiartikkeli löytyy myös suomeksi. And see also the video at Teton Gravity Research.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Honolulu



Week and a half in Hawaii in a meeting, properly dressed. For some reason people stared when I visited the beach. 

Seriously though, once I got off the black shoes and pants, what could I do? Worth taking my skis? Definitely, but since I had no time to exit the island of Oahu, my choice of slopes of somewhat limited. A bit of sand on the beach.

My real dream is to some day visit Big Island at the right time - when it snows on Mauna Kea. The Hawaii ski club, however, refrains from recommending skiing there due to "health concerns". In any case, snow is a rare phenomenon, and conditions where I could get to the top when there is snow are even rarer. Living nearby would make it easier, but for us non-Hawaiians it is difficult to arrange.

But back to Oahu. In addition beaches, there are amazing, lush green mountains. I did not get to visit them either, but I managed to sneak out on one of the nights to see a waterfall with the only light sources being my headlamp and the stars. Magical! I can also recommend visiting the Diamond Head, near Honolulu. The top of this ex-volcano, ex-military base can be reached by an easy walk, and has both amazing views and historical interest.

And of course, I also had to try surfing - for the first time in my life. (Thank you Ari for taking me.) But I have to say, it was difficult. How can one simultaneously be terrified by the waves and not have big enough waves to surf? And in front of our hotel in Honolulu, the surf is about half a kilometer out, and the hand-paddling to get there was... hard. With the (small) waves hitting my board, the hits and abrasion caused my chest muscles to remember the exercise for weeks afterwards. But hey, I tried surfing! Maybe again some day.






Photos and videos (c) 2014 by Jari Arkko and Tero Kivinen. Tämä blogiartikkeli löytyy myös suomeksi.

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. Politicians aside, the people are relaxed and nice. I 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:


Update: Three Weeks Later

Three weeks later and I'm slowing getting back in shape. After the competition I was in bruises from hitting things while running from the lift and down the stairs, and my airways had become inflamed from heavy breathing in that cold air. I did not have fever or need medicines, but was coughing, was very tired, and clearly not well. The doctor gave me about two weeks for the recovery, and now indeed I am more ore less back in shape. Haven't had a chance to visit a ski slope yet, as I wanted to avoid exerting effort and my local ski hill would have required climbing to ski the remaining snow. Hopefully there is some left when I get back from my current trip.

Also, the video from the sauna got picked up by Teton Gravity Research as a "TGR Pick", and widely shared. Here is the link to my TGR version of the article.

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