Wednesday, November 25, 2015

First snow, first descent

Sunday morning and the first snow! Well, a bit of white here and there. But a time to open the season in my local hill in Grani!

The rest of the hill was maybe more dirt and mud than snow. But my skis were sliding well.

I also happened to have a memory card failure on my GoPro, so the video is short. Not all of the material I had could be rescued.

Photos and videos (c) 2015 by Janne Arkko and Jari Arkko. This blog is also available at the TGR site, and at Relaa (in Finnish).

Saturday, November 7, 2015


My sorry life, episode two.

It was Jim who brought up an indoor ski hill. Japan is the indoor ski capital of the world, but it had not occurred to me that I might go skiing. And it had not even occurred to me that I would have an evening off on my last day in Japan. How far have I slipped from my native self, to not even think about skiing? To not think about what to do on free time? My brain must have fried.

But it turned out that skiing was closer than I had imagined. A twenty minute taxi ride took me to SNOVA新横浜 (Snova Shin-Yokohama), Yokohama's tiny indoor ski hill. A local ski hill that may not have seen foreigners before, or at least the staff was surprised to see me. I didn't speak a word of Japanese, they didn't speak a word of English. With a boarder girl as a translator, the staff finally understood that I was here to ski. (What else would I do at an indoor ski hill?)

Snova Shin Yokohama is small, smaller than almost anything that I had seen before. But it still had snow. And ice. I wasn't sure if I had neglected skiing for too long, as the skiing was difficult. It seemed like the breaking area was far too small, and as if I had no control on the descent. But the slope was very icy, and my skis undoubtedly unsharp and too soft for my weight. After skiing this small hill for two hours, the situation seemed to improve, particularly after the tiny snow cat refreshed the slope.

Snova Shin Yokohama has a slope, shared with some big jumps, and a half pipe. I got to ski the half pipe during slope maintance, and once again felt like I need more practice. Funny that I should be in trouble at ski hill boasting ten meter vertical difference and a magic carpet lift :-)

The other funny thing was the Japanese attention to detail and cleanliness. As you exit from the ski area, you are asked to first wash your board or skis with water, then dry them and your boots and gloves with hot air.

In the end, I had a very nice evening at the local ski hill. And some exercise, enough to start sweating in the cold.

There are a number of other indoor ski slopes in Japan, but this one was closest to where I was working at in Yokohama. The world's largest indoor ski hall, SSAWS, was in Japan as well, but it was dismantled and replaced by an IKEA store. What a fate!

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

The Ultimate Frustration

What's the point of working so hard that you cannot do the things you love? I feel like I'm far too busy. To add insult to the injury, this week I'm visiting one of the greatest ski destinations in the world, Sapporo, but there isn't yet any snow, and even if there were, I would not have time to go to the mountains.

I did, of course, explore a bit. But in the night.

What I found was the Mt. Moiwa ski area, on top of a popular sightseeing mountain almost in the centre of Sapporo. Two days ago they had a dusting of snow, but no longer. Armed with miniskis and headlamp, I found the ski lifts and the slopes, and even skied for a few meters. But not on snow, on what seemed like a half-abandoned hay field on an incline. Scattered with the remains of recently cut bushes. There's nothing that makes you dislike falling as much foot long sharp wooden sticks sticking out of the ground.

How about some real skiing and real time off soon? Anybody? Hello...?

Pictures and videos (c) 2015 by Jari Arkko. This blog also available on the TGR site. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Chattanooga Caving

I like caves, but feel suspicious of touristy tours. They usually leave a bland feeling, too easy, too packaged. Not so with Ruby Falls in Chattanooga, Tennesee!

This cave was discovered in 1928 by Leo Lambert, who was attempting to drill an elevator shaft to a different cave system. The shaft broke into a previously unknown cave, and he found the falls after 17 hours of crawling with an exploration team. The next day he returned with his wife, Ruby, to view the beauty of the falls. The falls were name after her.

The visitors do not have to crawl in cave today, but the visit to this cave is not short - you could be underground for two hours easily. The visit involves walking almost a kilometer through the cave system before you reach the falls deep inside the mountain. The falls are deep, at over 400 meters underground, and the source of the water running from them is still not pinpointed exactly.

A wonderful experience, and recommended for everybody. And, if you get bored, parts of the cave have free WiFi!

Photos and videos (c) 2015 by Jari Arkko. This blog is also available on TGR (English) and Relaa (Finnish).

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


No Abierto. The police has blocked the road. For a moment, we accepted our fate and considered having lunch. Or going riding in the nearby ranches. But we quickly recovered, and started searching for a shortcut that would allow us to bypass the police.

We eventually found a steep backroad, barely drivable, but one that delivered us on the closed ski area road above the police. Onwards to the ski area! Funnily enough, the ski area itself was not closed, and further up on the road we even found a guy working on installing chains. To this day, we don't know why the police was blocking the road. A temporary closure? We were going up too late in the early afternoon, after our long drive from our previous hotel? Language problems?

In any case, we found ourselves at the nice Lagunillas ski area. A club ski area, not one of those commercial developments around Santiago. There was scant information about Lagunillas in the Internet, except for the page about the Refugio and ski area listing at We were not sure if it still existed, if there were actual ski lifts, or if it was open on a weekday. But it is a real ski area. And open. And later the official page for the ski area also started to work.

There were maybe 30 other skiers, and heavy snowfall had closed big parts of the ski area. But two lifts were open, and allowed us to ski fresh untouched snow on the sides. By now it was late, however, and we did not have too long to ski.

Once the lifts closed we visited the small cafe at the bottom, and got very friendly service.

And, as we often did on this trip, upon leaving the place I decided to ski down the road as far as I could. I loaned Tero's Bluetooth radio helmet to test how far we could communicate in open space. Bluetooth cannot take even a small obstacle, but when there is line of sight, the range was surprisingly good - several hundred meters, perhaps even half a kilometer.

And the radios proved useful as we run into trouble. First, someone with a fancy sportscar had decided to drive down from the ski area with a foot of snow on the road. No chains. And the windshield was mostly covered in snow. Our shovels turned out to be useful in digging the car up from the side ditch, and the car was able to continue.

The second issue was that I wanted to ski as far down as possible, but eventually I ran out of snow on a long slope between the switchbacks. There was a small snow cover, but it covered a rocky field, and my skis were making even worse sounds than usual. I had to take off the skis and walk the rest.

In any case, I found Lagunillas more interesting than the famous Santiago ski areas such Valle Nevado, and it still a short drive from Santiago, near the tiny but picturesque town of San José de Maipo. Much recommended!

Photos and videos (c) 2015 by Jari Arkko and Tero Kivinen. Another version of this article exists on the TGR site. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomenkielisenä.

Sunday, August 30, 2015


When skiing or hiking at a new place, suitable maps are essential. These maps can be hard to come by, however, and most GPS maps do not contain information about walking paths, ski slopes or lifts. OpenStreetMap, however, has a lot of good information, and I have been using it in off-piste skiing, finding ski areas, and hiking around the world.

OpenStreetMap is a community-driven project, with contributions from people with local knowledge. My friend Tero is one of the thousands of contributors to OpenStreetMap. His goal is to add information about the out-of-the-way ski areas that we often visit. The existence of the ski area itself can be marked, making finding the place easier. Ski lift positions help general navigation in the area for the purposes of off-piste skiing, etc.

In this article Tero explains how to make contributions to OpenStreetMap. The basic idea is quite easy: mark waypoints or tracks on your GPS and then upload these to the OpenStreetMap website.

For instance, at Los Arenales Tero marked the endpoints of the two ski lifts, and then added the lifts to the database. Here is how Los Arenales looked like (overlaid with our GPS tracks from the climb) before the change:

And then after the change the ski lifts are visible:

Here are the more detailed instructions.

First, you need a GPS device. Tero uses Garmin eTrex devices (such as eTrex 30x) that support OpenStreetMap formats natively. Second, you need to register at to be able to submit additions.

While on the mountains or on the hike, keep the GPS on and let it save your track. It may also be useful to mark specific points, such as the beginning or end of a ski lift or trail.

After the the trip, do the following:
  1. Connect your GPS to your computer using a USB cable. Mount the device, if needed on your operating system.

  2. Copy the GPS tracks from the device to your computer. For instance, on a Garmin the tracks are in the Garmin/GPX or Garmin/GPX/Archive directories.

    If necessary, you may need to combine multiple GPX files. There is a handy script for doing this at end of this blog post.

  3. Go to, log in, zoom in to correct area, and click edit.

  4. Open map data tab from the right, and click on the magnifying glass next to the "local GPX file" text and select your track. You can only have one track loaded at one time.

    Now you have map and your track overlaid.

  5. Check if there is errors in the existing slopes, lifts, or other features. If there are, fixing those errors is useful. See for information what information slopes and lifts should have.

    For example in another ski area we visited in Chile, Araucarias, there are several ski lifts. But only one of them was listed in OpenStreetMap. And even that one had missing information. Make sure the name is correct, or if there is no name, keep the name empty. Make sure the lift direction is correct, i.e. from down to up.

  6. For the lift at Araucarias, Tero changed the type from generic aerialway to Chair Lift, added Occupancy, and marked that it is not heated, and does not have bubble.

  7. To add a lift, select a line, clicking in the bottom of the lift, and then at the top twice (first to mark the point, second time to finish making the line).

  8. Then fill in the information. To use the Araucarias lift as example, first write "T-bar" in the search text, and pick "T-bar lift" from the list. That is it, unless the lift has a name in which case you should add that as well.

  9. To add pistes do the same, i.e. add lines for it. You can normally use multiple clicks, there is no point of trying to make them too accurate, as this is just the approximate center line of the slope. Like lifts, slopes have a direction, from top to bottom.

  10. Once the lines are added, search for Piste, and select "Piste/Ski Train", and then change Type to "Downhill".

    Add name is if the slope is named, and try to be accurate with the spelling. If there is numbers or letters for the lifts, add them as "Ref", by scrolling down on the left, and clicking "+" after the All tags menu, and then writing "ref" on the left side, and writing number/letter on the right.
    The OpenStreetMap entry for Araucarias shows examples of pistes and lifts.

  11. When you have made all your changes, save them by clicking save at the top of the page, and write useful description what have you done.

Other pictures from the environment at Los Arenales:

Appendix A: Script

This handy Perl script is one way of combining GPX files:
#!/usr/local/bin/perl -w
foreach $i (@ARGV) {
   open(FILE, "<$i") || die "Cannot open $i : $!";
   undef $/;
   $file = <FILE>;
   $file =~ s/>/>\n/g;
   ($h, $b, $f) = split(/<\/?trk>\n/, $file);
   if ($header) {
print $h;
print "<trk>\n";
$header = 0;
   print $b;
print "</trk>\n";
print $f;
Photos and videos (c) 2015 by Jari Arkko and Tero Kivinen. Script and instructions by Tero Kivinen. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi. This blog is also available as a TGR version.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Volcán Villarica

That moment when you realise that the ski area you were going to ski at next week is closed due to the volcano erupting. The obvious next question is, of course, if I was packing skins.


Like so many outdoorsy things, our Chilean excursion was greatly affected by the nature's whims. The volcano. The ski areas that were closed because of the snow storm of the decade. But of course, this should be seen as an opportunity for adventure rather than a problem. Visiting other ski areas, exploring other things, or climbing up.

As we landed in Temuco - 700 kilometres south of Santiago - the horizon was full of conical mountains. This is a typical volcano shape, and some of them were smoking.

We didn't really have time to head to the open ski areas during the day, they were a bit further out. So we had reserved the day to explore the area around Villarica. I really wanted to see the volcano, the town of Pucón, and the beautiful lake Villarica next to them. But I also wanted to see how far up the mountain we could drive on the ski area road. Perhaps we could see something.

It turned out that a few other cars were also on the same road, setting up snow chains and planning to go up. We run into two local snowboarding hitchhikers, who explained that while the mountain is still under a Yellow alert, the road is actually passable, and a handful of skiers are enjoying skinning up the ski area.

After some trouble setting up our chains (one of them was of wrong size), we managed to drive up, and started to set up skins on our skis. We could go as high as the lower base of the ski area by car, and then had to skin up about 200 meters through moderately sloping forests. The upper base area, an open and still relatively flat area opened around us.

For the first time, we were able to clearly see the erupting volcano close ahead of us. The volcano was definitely not sleeping, as the top was emitting a large plume of smoke. Yet the most active period of the eruption had ceased, and there were no lava flows, explosions, or visible ash. Sadly, no red stuff! The upper flanks of the volcano were slightly coloured by falling ash, however.

By now we were within the closed-for-the-public 3km range from the crater, but stayed on top of the ridges. Glacier volcanoes can quickly generate deadly lahars, flows mixing volcanic material, mud, and water. And those flows will run on the couloirs and valleys.

We kept climbing, as the ground started to rise more steeply. Weather became very variable. One moment we could barely see our skis, the next moment it was clear skies. After climbing 400 meters and reaching slightly beyond one of the chairlift lines, we decided to turn back. But only because I needed to be on a work conference call in half an hour, and by now we had run out of phone coverage. Otherwise we would have continued to see the crater :-)

We skied down, on mostly icy or otherwise difficult snow. We had skied at Ski Pucón, even if the lifts were not operating. And seen an amazing view of the imposing volcano smoking ahead of us. Worth the climb and the sweat, even if this was yet another one ski run day.

And had the ski area been operating, it would have been a nice place, a mixture of steeper and less steep slopes in an amazing setting.

Photos and videos (c) 2015 by DailyMail (Reuters) for the first picture, the rest Jari Arkko and Tero Kivinen. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi. There is also a TGR version of this article.