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.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

New Skis

Having come back from the tropics, it feels surprisingly good to be in cold air, on a shiny white ski hill. And particularly with new skis!

Today I took my Salomon Rockers to the repair shop, the last few trips have been really hard on them. I think they can still be repaired, but I've been hitting rocks a lot.

And I finally got myself a pair of faster skis, the Atomic Race D2 GS skis. These are thin and long (191cm) skis with a 27 meter turn radius. They are for the previous, not current official race standards, so they were very affordable. I did not get them for all-mountain skiing, but for the few occasions when I want to ski fast.

And while testing on the Kauniainen ski hill is naturally limited, the skis feel very fast. As the speed picks up, the skis feel like they come alive. I've always had skis that fidget in higher speeds, but these skis just run like a train, unaffected by minor disturbances. I was warned that they might be hard to control or turn, but it did not seem to be too hard. Maybe the years of practice us older skiers have gotten from the pre-historic, pre-carving days helps :-)

I feel excited. Want to take them for more rides in the coming evenings.

Football field next to the Grani ski area:

Photos (c) 2015 by Jari Arkko

Thursday, January 15, 2015

24 hours is on again

The Ylläs 24 hour ski competition is on again in 2015. I was thinking of going, anyone else? Last year we did almost 50 km of vertical. The idea is that the gondola lift runs for 24 hours, and you can ski as much as you can during that time.

Any sleep, not running the few meters to or from the gondola, or taking bathroom breaks will immediately mean that you lose the competition. Still interested? It is a fun competition, but you better be rested!

I am now going for the second time, so I know the drill better. One thing that I was surprised about last year was the rules. I had understood that there'll be no downhill skiing during the competition, as the ski area is open for everybody. Turns out that in practice you have to make at least three turns on each run, and that's not much for the 430 meter (1300 ft) altitude difference! Also, the slopes turn a couple of times in any case.

In other words, the competitors were going really fast. As fast as you can, straight down. I was most scared last year in the early hours of the night, when we were skiing the steepest world cup slope, and the fog and rain moved in. With a visibility down to about 10 meters, I slowed down, but the leaders did not. Amazing skiing, full speed ahead into to the fog.

This year I also will rest better on the night before the competition. Last year I went on a tour in the local bars and slept only five hours. There's clearly room for improvement :-)

After the competition, I was so tired that I went to bed before my evening flights home. Three hours later I woke up to a phone call from the airport. The checkin agent was asking if I will be on the flight, everybody else is already in the place. Nice of Finnair to call me! But I had missed the wake-up alarms, and I was almost an hour away from the airport, so no, I did not make it to my plane. I took a flight the next day, and also had to call the office to say that I will not be there on Monday.

The competition runs in April 11-12, 2015, in Ylläs, in northern Finland. For more information, see See also my live report from last year's competition (myös suomeksi).

Photo (c) 2014 by Jari Arkko. Tämä artikkeli löytyy myös suomeksi.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Sauna im Stubai

My kids follow me on some of my trips. Not only to enjoy the great skiing, but also to learn about culture. For instance, where else would my sons learn about der Sauna, except by going to the Freizeitcentrum im Stubai, Austria?

And clearly, we had been doing it all wrong before. As der Sauna Inspektor pointed out, wir müssen have a towel under not just our butt, but also our feet. And the water bucket was quickly taken away from us, when we tried to throw water to the heater. And then there was the matter of mixed public saunas with mandatory nakedness... clearly, cultural education for all of us.

Although in all seriousness, the Freizeitcentrum was an excellent place. The saunas were hot, and the swimming pools were nice. Very nice. On the first evening I was floating in the warm outside pool, watching snow flakes land slowly. And admiring the silhouettes of the mountains around us. Bliss.

But there was even more bliss during the days in the mountains. I had been to Austria many times, but not skiing near Innsbruck before. I had always thought of the area as small, insignificant ski slopes. Not real mountains. For instance, as we toured the different slopes we found ourselves at the bottom of the slopes at Patschkofelkugelglömderglichtbahnen. (Or some name roughly like that, I've lost track of the consonants after the first five.) In any case, we were depressed, as the morning weather was bleak. Rainy, foggy. And the ski hill looked like a children's practice area.

But we went anyway. A few minutes later the chairlift had taken us through the clouds, and we were standing on top of a 1100 vertical meter ski run in bright sunshine. A ski run where they had held the olympics. Twice. Talk about false first impressions. While this particular ski hill was still smaller than the other ones that we visited, it stands in my mind as the nicest experience of our time in Innsbruck and Stubai valley. Partly because the hill was almost empty. But mostly because that one open ski run - the one with 1100 meters of vertical - was completely on solid, steep ice.

We kept taking the fast lift again and again, and speeding down on that run. It was good. First because of the sound that ski edges make on ice, and secondly, because skiing on ice is so different. With modern skis, you can pretty much do anything, take any turn at any point. The skis will sink into the snow and you can stop and turn as needed. But not on ice. You can still make turns and brake, but they will have a far more modest effect. It is like ... sliding on ice ... your balance and skiing technique becomes suddenly far more important.

But we spent most of our time in the Stubaier Gletscher, a ski area high up on the glacier. The three days we spent here was not enough to explore everything, but I want to note two of the most interesting features:

Wilde Grub'n - a 10 km ski route. This route was the best way to return to the valley. And the only way at the early season time, other than with the lifts. But what a way! You can start your descent from 3210 meters and finish at 1750 meters in the Wilde Grub'n restaurant and afterski spot. On the way the route will provide untracked snow after a snowfall, and has some nice steep sections.

Eisgrotte - an ice cave near the top station of the Eisgrat cabin lift. I had never been under ice, and the solid, see-through deep inside the glacier was a big experience.

We also visited Schlick 2000, a medium-sized but nice and relaxing ski area in the middle of the Stubai valley.

Finally, I just wanted to once again recommend Austria as the place for ski vacations. The mountains are very nice. But in addition the people are very friendly and helpful, food and accommodation is quite affordable, and everything is clean and modern. And the architecture is nice. We stayed in Neustift im Stubai, in Haus der Berge which I can heartily recommend. The apartments are new, spacious, and the owners take good care of you.

Neustift is a small but centrally located village with all services easily reachable. Across the road from Haus der Berge is the Hotel Restaurant Hoferwirt which I can also recommend for dinners. But if you are in one of the mountain huts in the ski areas, whatever you do, do not order the deep-fried calf's head.

Our apartment was next to a church, and the path to the Freizeitcentrum took us through the cemetery:

The reason for traveling to Austria for ski vacations?

One dinner option:

Sauna im Stubai:

Photos and videos (c) 2014-2015 by Jari Arkko and Janne Arkko. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi.

Sunday, December 28, 2014


Desperation, n. Travel to the end of the world in search of snow, and then find none. Lose your favourite tools, the skis. So desperate that you consider taking up heli-biking, but end up gliding on your butt in an imaginary world instead.

On the first day, we thought that going underground would help us forget the fact that there was no snow above ground. On the second day, I got restless. I was trying to invent an adventure, and called the heli-biking service. Unfortunately, the weather was bad. By now I would have settled for roundtrip tickets for heli-hiking, had such a thing existed.

(Yes, heli-biking service. I had not realised there are helicopter services for other things besides skiing. But it seemed that anything is possible where we were. The friendly people at Helisika can set you up for not only biking but also for heli-fishing. I really hope no one offers the hiking version.)

Then it dawned on me. I need a new hobby. I should start going around with a snow glider, a coaster. My red plastic glider fits conveniently in my backpack and can be taken as cabin luggage. And is recommended for ages 0 to 3, matching my mental age and state quite nicely :-) And how convenient all this is compared to dragging heavy ski bags around! And it can be used on the tiniest hills.

And it so happened that we were close to Shire of Middle-earth. Once we were there, I climbed on top of the Bag End hill, and slid down on the wet grass. New hobby, new country!

For after-gliding at the Middle-earth, I recommend the Green Dragon. You will never find beer so brown elsewhere.

Upon exiting Middle-Earth, the sun started shining, and we saw a beautiful double rainbow:

On the way to the Tongariro national park, our base, we run into an interesting red lake near the Raukawa falls:

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

Saturday, December 27, 2014


My friend Patrick (see his "Mad Pat" blog) told me about this magical place in Ontario. Sandhill. He had conquered its steep sand slopes. And now I was on my way to Toronto and wanted to see if I can repeat the experience.

Sandhill is a massive, 150-meter high sand dune on the lakeshore of Erie. It hosts a camping ground, a beach, beautiful views, and - according to me and Patrick - a ski slope.

As the readers of this blog know, I have been to many sand dunes. But Sandhill is something different. The scale. The steepness. The ice age has created a wonder of nature on this spot, and it is amazing that erosion hasn't taken it down.

Sandhill is also easy to access; it is convenient to stay in the camping grounds, and it is fun to wash away the sweat from the hot climb by dropping into the lake.

For this trip, I had taken my Orthex miniskis, as I like skiing on sand with them. The climb up was tough, as I kept once again falling down a bit on every step through the soft sand. The ski run was more interesting as in most dunes that I've skied on, the steep hill was almost scary. When I collapsed on the beach at the end of the run, the sand that I had dislodged during the run kept running down for five minutes.

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