Sunday, August 30, 2015

OpenStreetMap



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 openstreetmap.com 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 openstreetmap.com, 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 http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Piste_Maps 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
$header=1;
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;
   close(FILE);
}
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.

Yes.


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.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Riders of the Lost Arenales


There are references to it in the Internet. And a sole road sign point to it. But it is nowhere to be found.

Tero and I had spent the previous day at Corralco, a commercially operated ski area in the volcanic Araucania region of Chile. But this morning we felt like taking a different turn on the road. So we took the road. And found nothing, after an hour of driving. Took another road. Searched the Internet again. Asked people in the village of Lonquimay for advice.

After some hours, with a handwaving for a general direction, waiting for the closed road to be cleared, putting on chains, we finally found it. Los Arenales is no longer. The ski area has ceased operations in 2007. But the mountains are still there, the sun is shining on fresh new snow, and the ski lift towers are still standing.

And we are not alone. The Chilean military is also here, using these hills as their alpine practice ground. We put on skins and start heading up through the pretty Aracaurias forest.

Our goal is to reach the top of the highest lift. On the way we stop for a drink and a snack, and meet two two local kids from Lonquimay. They are walking up with their snowboards. Happy, energetic, and travelling light, they are headed towards the peak further up. We do not speak the same language, but all of us clearly enjoy the same mountain spirit.

We end up following the kids and finally reach the top about 400 meters higher than the base. By now enough time has passed that we need to head down before it gets dark. In the meantime, the energetic kids have of course done two rounds :-)

The peak is steep, but the slopes on the expired ski area are more mellow. The snow quality changes from ice and hard packed snow to soft powder - momentarily - and then to slush.


On the way back we also stopped at Quebrada Honda ski school. A rope tow, made out of bicycle parts! I slid down on an inflated tire. One more ski area visited!












Here is our search for Los Arenales around Lonquimay:


Photos and videos (c) 2015 by Jari Arkko and Tero Kivinen. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi. There is also a TGR version of this article.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Pulling the ABS Handle



It is a hot summer. Perfect time to test avalanche gear?

Two years ago, I was in an avalanche, and failed to pull the ABS handle to fill my backpack. I had maybe a second to react, and in the panic chose only to ski a bit forward. The skiing was probably a good idea, because it got me away from the bottom of a couloir. Avalanches are violent, destructive events and the backpack is not a way to save you in all circumstances. Still, pulling the backpack would also have been a good idea.

But I've never found the handle convenient. I've had it drop by itself a couple of times, presumably due to iced up connection. And I've been scared of touching the handle since I had no good idea of how sensitive it is. The handle contains 200 milligrams of explosives which are used to cause the bottle to open, and the bottle then fills up the airbags through tubes.

Part of the problem is that I've never had an opportunity to pull the handle and test the backpack. But now an opportunity presented itself.

On my recent trip to Chile, the clueless airline - never fly TAM Airlines! - confiscated my ABS bottle, despite their website and service centre claiming to respect the IATA rules. (The IATA rules specify ABS backpacks as dangerous goods that can be transported in cabin or hold luggage when disarmed. I realise that my backpack transport problems are a minor first world annoyance, but on the other hand you probably want to fly airlines that follow dangerous goods transport guidelines accurately. If they can make a mistake to not transport an allowable item, will they also be making mistakes to transport non-allowable items? And don't get me started on North America where safety equipment like the backpacks are not allowed, yet guns can be transported as luggage.)

But back to my backpack. The incident caused me to have to go to my ABS supplier, Camu, and get a new bottle. But I also decided to ask for another bottle to be used in a test.

So I ended up testing the backpack launch in hot sunshine. The handle felt good in the launch, it was easy to initiate and yet not too easy so that one would accidentally launch the backpack by a mere touch.

The airbags became surprisingly full and rigid. They also retained the air for quite some time. Overall the system appeared to be sturdy and reliable.

Testing and practice is recommended! If you do launch your backpack, I found these instructions helpful for the re-packing part. The bottle and the handle are destroyed, and need to be returned to the shop for replacement and refilling.

I feel more confident about the system now, having tested it. In any case, do not get into an avalanche - they are very bad for you, backpack or not.




Here is how you recognised used items: there is a hole in the bottle, and there is several millimetres of red plastic between the handle the metal pin:



Photos and videos (c) 2015 by Jari Arkko and Olli Arkko. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi. Another version of the article is also at the TGR site.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Chile Trip Done!



Our ski trip to Chile with Tero Kivinen​ is now complete. Tomorrow we'll return via Malalcahuello, Temuco, Santiago, Sao Paolo, Milano and Helsinki, a 15 000 km trip.

In nine days we did nine ski areas, skied on four volcanoes, climbed closed ski areas, hitched rides on snow cats, skied through Araucarias forests, drove a bit too much and had too many work conference calls on the road, but saw many wonderful things and met many interesting people. And one way or the other we seemed to find fresh snow every day.

Chile is great, and worth visiting by more people. Back at work on Tuesday.

Photo credits: Great Circle Mapper.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The UN Skis


Hi! I am from the United Nations. I have a tank, but it is small, white and not scary at all. Honest! I also have skis, beautiful light blue skis.

Seriously though, the UN peacekeeping forces do incredibly important work. I was a bit surprised though that they would have their own special skis, but they do. Cross-country skis, courtesy of the Finnish army's participation in the peacekeeping forces in Macedonia. I acquired a copy and did some testing.

Turns out that they do not slide very well in the heat of the summer. Something about sticky grass. Water helps, but liquid soap helps even more!




Photos and videos (c) 2015 by Jari Arkko. There is also a TGR version of this article. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Darn Volcanoes!


That moment when you realise that the ski area you wanted to visit next week is closed due to volcanic eruption taking out the road.

The Villarica ski area is closed this season, due to the March 2015 eruption on Villarica. Maybe it is best to not try to ski there, given that the eruption is still going on this month.


Darn. Well, fortunately there are some other ski areas, as well as ski areas on volcanoes in Chile. I am trying to book a trip to Chile for some summer skiing, having so far mostly worked all through the summer. My biggest meetings are now over for a while, so hoping that I can find some snow with my friend Tero. And still find some flight tickets.

Photo credits DailyMail (Reuters) and Powderquest.