Thursday, July 10, 2014

Capitol Hill

Today we are visiting Washington DC, and trying out a Planetskier recipe: take a grass slope, two miniskis, ice cubes from the hotel ice dispenser, and mix them together. And there we have, another ski destination!

This was my first descent in Washington DC, and the 21st state or district in North America that I have skied in. My family vacation in the museums of New York and Washington was not quite as mountain-focused as I would have wanted, but I did find some skiing, eventually!

I was a bit nervous about the possibility of the security in the National Mall getting too interested in my ski exercise near the congress. But fortunately they were relaxed and did not pay any attention. Some tourists even took a few photos of what I was doing.

And I was surprised by the amount of ice cubes one can get in few seconds from a hotel ice machine. I've never used those machines before, but clearly they are useful! In the next trip I will keep this option in mind, and consider them as a source of even larger amounts of ice. Now I used one bag, but it would probably have been easy to acquire much more.

I also happened to be in DC for the July 4th fireworks, which were great:

And I was in New York to witness the incoming storm. Those skyscrapers are a great place for storm watching:

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

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

On the Beach

Midsummer in Gotland, Sweden. Perfect place for boating, hanging out on the sand beach, swimming, as well as a little bit of climbing. And all this underground!

Gotland is a great vacation destination, but when the others were going through medieval church ruins for the third day, I felt I needed to do something else. Lummelundagrottan is Sweden's 2nd longest cave, and stretches for four kilometres. Or possibly more, as the exploration continues. The cave is 15 kilometres north of Visby, the main city in Gotland, and also near the airport. The largest open spaces of the cave were discovered in the 1950s by three school kids, Örjan, Percy, and Lars.

Today, the stairs lead to those large spaces, and the tourists can walk through the cave along paved pathways. The cave gets over 100 000 visitors every year. But there is another, a more interesting way to enter the cave - even for us who are interested in trying out caving but have no experience to do it on our own. An adventure group takes ten wannabe explorers into the cave along with two guides.

One of the branches of the cave system is closed, and we can not enter that. Even cave researchers get to visit that part of the cave for only a week in a year. The adventure group explores another branch for about half a kilometre into the cave. Going beyond this would require crossing a "water lock", i.e., would require diving. Not for us!

The route that we can take begins on small boats. They are easy to manoeuvre into the cave, as we can grab hold of rocks in the tunnel walls and pull ourselves forward. But then the going gets a bit tougher. The cave ceiling drops so low that we have to lean low - and lean to different directions to avoid capsizing the boat. Once we reach the end of the boat trip, we climb over rocks, and continue our journey on foot, wading through partially water-filled tunnels, climbing, and even crawling.

The cave was partially what I expected: tight spaces, water, crawling. But I was totally blown away by the surprising elements. The underground sand beaches. The beauty of large tunnels. The water that shines in bright green colours in the light of our headlamps.

And I did not expect clay. I imagined the cave would be rock, clean rock. But many parts of the Lummelunda cave are covered in clay. The crawling and climbing in these areas turns our clothes and hands thoroughly dirty. My fellow cave-men drew war paintings on their faces.

And the water. Wading through the deep water in watertight pants was surprisingly different from just wading through water in your swimsuit, as the pressure is feels stronger. My mind raced through the stories of cave diving, and I kept being afraid of the holes to other parts of the cave. The holes were hiding somewhere under our feet, under the water.

An interesting part of the trip was navigating in complete darkness, as we turned our lights off for a moment. This was surprisingly difficult, not to mention scary. The guides also told us a story about a mouse they had seen in one of the early tours, only to find the mouse half-eaten when returning from their tour. Is there a large carnivore hiding somewhere in the cave... true or not? I do not know.

We used wade-fishing pants, high enough to reach our armpits. But they were not high enough to protect us completely from the water, as it was too deep in places. In a couple of points we had to either jump a few meters or swim. This would not have been such an issue, but doing that while carrying two cameras was a challenge for me. In some other points we held on to rocks on the tunnel walls to keep ourselves afloat. In another case we had to move on our bottoms along a small underwater ledge in the tunnel wall.

The cameras survived, albeit a bit dirty from all that clay. But most of us had taken in some water during the trip. The advice from our guides was that if water starts pouring to our pants, there is no point in raising the issue - we better keep going and pass the difficult point. And the organisers have a system for drying the pants :-)

A tourist tour into the Lummelunda cave costs 130 SEK or about 13 €. The adventure tour costs 800 SEK or about 80 €.

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

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Ich bin ein Berlin(ski)er

The Berg - a creation by architect Jakob Tigges - is the latest source of pride for Berliners. This artificial mountain covers almost the entire Tempelhof, an old airport. A park like no other. And I am in Berlin to make the first descent!

The historic Tempelhof airport was closed in 2008, and has since then been reserved for recreation. Biking, climbing, hiking, camping, even paragliding, ... the possibilities are limitless. The mountain and its views are like a dream that has captivated the Berliners. Just the thought of the mountain has caused other cities to be envious. Suddenly the biggest skyscrapers, Guggenheim museums, and and opera houses seem nothing compared to what Berlin has.

Climbing to the 1000 meters high The Berg is tough in the hot Berlin summer. At this time of the year, there isn't much snow, but I can still ski on the moss and lichen that covers the steep parts of the mountain. My skis slide better on moss than on grass, and the recent rain helps me go even faster. 

And it is much more fun to fall on moss than on grass! This is my first time skiing on moss, and I take a couple of falls. But here and there rocks stick out of the ground, as do tree stumps. And there are drops in the rockface. Selecting the right route is crucial. Skiing what you climbed is the safest way.

Above: A "sselfie" (skiing-selfie).

Above: A view from the old terminal.

Above: Reaching the top.

So this was the first descent of The Berg. At least for the moment, however, The Berg remains an imaginary mountain. But what could be more rewarding than thinking about how to construct a perfect mountain? And reality is not required for enjoying the mountain. As the architect himself notes: "Tourists would come to the site to take photographs of the mountain that isn’t there". The mythical plan opens our eyes to see things that we were unable to see before, to imagine the unimaginable.

Perhaps paradoxically, the ski runs on this article are real. Imagination can affect reality.

What is your imaginary mountain?

Above: The only photo that I have of the first descent; 
timing delay shots when you are alone is very difficult.

Above: Old signs at the airfield.

Photos and videos (c) 2014 by Jari Arkko. The audio track used in the video for the John F. Kennedy speech has been taken from wikimedia. Two of the pictures are taken from The Berg project homepage. Thanks to Désirée for coming up with the title for the article. More information about The Berg can found from the following links: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]. Tämä artikkeli löytyy myös suomeksi.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Liquid Nitrogen

A long, hot summer. And boring. But then I found some leftover liquid nitrogen from an overclocking experiment. Would skis work on liquid nitrogen?

This was an obvious opportunity for a physics test. Pour the nitrogen on the small slope in my yard and attempt to ski the liquid-covered surface. I put on my Orthex miniskis, grabbed a pair of poles, and skied the slope.

The skis slid on the surface... pretty much like they do on any rock surface, i.e., not very well. Much of the nitrogen disappeared in a white cloud. But there was a little bit of ice formed on the rocks. (See the picture of the surface further down below.) But still, it was not a bad ski day. The cloud was nice, even if I used only a small amount of the liquid.

With more liquid, the icing effect would perhaps have been more noticeable. But at the same time, the risks would have been higher. I wouldn't want to fall on a pool of liquid nitrogen, for instance.

So what happened with my son's overclocking experiments? The CPU was run at 8.025 GHz. Here's the icy heat sink:

WARNING: Liquid nitrogen is extremely, extremely dangerous. Physical contact with it is obviously dangerous. But it is even more dangerous as an unnoticeable gas that could replace oxygen in the air.

Photo and video credits (c) 2014 by Jari Arkko. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi.

Thursday, May 29, 2014


It is 5am and I have just arrived in São Paulo, Brazil. It is a sunny day and the temperatures will hit 25-30 C later in the day. But a couple of hours later I'm skiing on a local ski hill.

Brazil is country #44 on my list. With the exception of Peru, I have now skied in all South American countries that have commercial ski areas. There are plenty of snow-covered mountains in the remaining countries, but getting to those is much more difficult than dropping by in a commercial ski area. Those other mountains would require hiking, guides, climbing... maybe I can do them some day. If I'm lucky. Worth dreaming about, at least.

In any case, Ski Mountain Park is an hour away from São Paulo, and the only place to ski in Brazil. Wikipedia tells me that frost and sometimes even snow is not unheard of in the highest altitudes. But the highest point in Brazil is still only 1200 meters, and on this trip I would not have time to sit around and wait for the perfect weather. Trying some natural-snow skiing would have been nice, of course.

I have been travelling to South America many times in the last couple of years, and I always wanted to visit Ski Mountain Park, but up until now it had not been possible. But now Brazil had set up a large Internet conference that I had to attend, and as luck would have it, they had chosen São Paulo as the meeting place. Great! I had been to Brazil earlier, but only to change planes at the airport, and I was very positively impressed by São Paulo and the surroundings. I had been reading scary stories about crime and the slums of Rio de Janeiro, but what I found was a very modern, safe, and thriving environment. It would be nice to spend even more time in Brazil some day.

But back to Ski Mountain Park. It resides on the green hills near São Roque, a sleepy small town that seems far away from big city life. This small park seems to be targeted mostly as a children's playground, and in addition to the ski slope, it has slides, horse riding, restaurants, and a plastic skating rink. And a snowman! Not one made of snow or ice, of course, since we are in Brazil!

The slope was short and not at all steep. It was constantly being sprayed by water. This added to the fun, as skiing on wet plastic makes your skis run much faster. But it also added an element of game to the skiing experience, can I ski the slope without being hit by the water sprays?

But perhaps the most intriquing aspect of the ski area were the instructors. Local ski-instructors were on duty to guide the tourists to skiing by hand. Literally; they held the hands of the skiers while walking backwards on the slope themselves. Obviously, the local tourists are likely to be first-time skiers. And skiing on plastic is actually very difficult compared to skiing on snow. Turning takes more effort. Braking effect is very minimal. So I can easily understand the need for the hand-holding.

At the bottom of the slope there was a net to catch too fast going skiers. Due to the lack of steepness, I cannot imagine anyone would be going really fast, but if you really tried, you could run into the net. (I tried, of course.)

The purpose of this booth ("vinhateria" - place to hate wines?) remained a bit unclear. They seemed to be selling wines, however.

The plastic run is at the top of a hill, and to get to the top one has to take a one-person chairlift. The lift goes along a long slope that was being repaired or modified in some way. This long, "main" slope seemed interesting, and if it could be used for skiing, would have changed the nature of the place completely. But I do not know if it was used for skiing - it could also have been a place to hop on one of those downhill cars. No one in the whole place spoke any English, so it was difficult to find out what the normal state of the slope was.

The ski area has also an impressive set of jumps. They were not in use at the day of the visit, however, just like the main slope.

By the way, my blog articles have been coming slowly in the past month or two. Sorry. I have been travelling too much, often stopping at home for just hours between week-long trips around the world. And I've travelled mostly in warm, flat places, with little possibilities for skiing. Albeit that hasn't stopped me from trying to find skiing. I have had skis with me on every trip that I have taken. And Brazil is an example of where skiing succeeded!

Photo and video credits © 2014 by Jari Arkko

Friday, April 11, 2014

24h Liveblog

This weekend I am participating in the Ylläs 24h competition. The Ylläs Gondola lift will stay open through the night, and teams and individuals will compete on how many runs they can do. The one with most runs will win.

I have no idea if I'll be even able to stay awake through it. But I should be able to provide a live blog updates. I will post updates during the Gondola rides as the day and night progresses! I carry an iPad mini with a 4G connection in my backpack. This will be the first time I'll be trying to blog with this device, and I have no idea yet how well it will work. It will be interesting too do this test.

But back to the competition. The competition is primarily run on the Gondola ski lift. One lift ride gives you 430 meters of vertical difference, and two years ago the winning team made 123 runs or 52 kilometres of vertical during the 24 hours. Quite an achievement, given that this means less than 12 minutes per round.

I came to Ylläs now on Friday, around midnight. And I already found time to get to the off-piste. The most active bar at Ylläs. And it was very, very active, even if I was the only client! But the hotels were full, what is wrong with you people when you do not go outside your cabins in the evenings???

And the same thing with Bar Kaappi (closet), only a few clients. I had to come out of the closet.

Update 4pm: 9th round. Going slow due to headwind and the afternoon long route. Strong Windows, but I am hopina It will not cause gondola to stop.

Update 5:30pm: Weather getting worked, hoping wind does not pick up more. Sun is behind clouds. Round 16, if I have calculated correctly. Still fun, although I am already starting to feeling my legs :-) no breaks so far and that is also how It has to be to end up in the top... Some people take this very seriously.

Update 7:30pm: Feeling tired.

Update 10:30pm: Night lights. Latest leaderboard puts me and Janne U to the lead, but I think he has passed me now.

Update 10:35pm: Damn, I am one run behind the leaderboard, Janne U. Well, maybe a coupé hundred meters.

Update 10:45pm: Hmm. Gondola stopped. Ohälsosamt boy. At least a minute now.

Update 0:15am: the stop was only 5min but I have been resting on gondola reidessä, not posting. The Ylläs worldcup run is now in use, very fast runs! We are skiing at full speed, but making mild turns on the Waynen, as required by the tulessa. Feeling tired...

Update 04:30am: Latest reilut at 3am have Janne at 62 runs, Edwin 61, and me 60. Still going strong, or at least going. Felt pretty tired earlier now with morning Cloverfield feeling a bit better. Still Alkosta foursquares more hours on the high speed run. The lift has slowed down, however, due to wind. Foggy.

Update 8:30am. Ouch. Muscles, Back and handsfree all hurting form overuse. No new status information form the competition. Fine and half hours remaining. Weather and visibility is bad.

Update 10:45am: A bit over 3 hours remains. I have regained some of my energy, with the goal of possibly getting 3rd place, even though it seems impossible at the moment. Currently 4th at 80 runs (8am) with Janne U still leading at 84 runs. We will reach something over 100 runs in the end.

Update 2pm: Done!!! Last checkin 3 minutes before the deadline, just in time!

Update after the competition: It was fun, although particularly at 3am an onwards I was also extremely tired, and when the weather turned bad it was a challenge. And now after the competition everything hurts: leg muscles, fingers (for carrying skis), and my back. The back because the competition turned out to be largely a downhill competition with a very long track. The rules said that we needed to make some turns, but, e.g., three turns on the main slope of Ylläs was an appropriate amount, and we were also allowed to be in downhill form on the flat areas. Very different from my usual ski style and position.

The results are now in:

1. Janne Uski 113 runs or about 48km vertical
2. Edwin Pasto 111 runs
3. Leo Pasto 110 runs
4. Jari Arkko 105 runs or about 45km vertical
5. Janne Nokelainen 83 runs
... (23 participants)
1. Lehtolat 114 runs
2. #onemoreyear 111 runs
3. Ylipalaneet Heikkilat 110 runs
4. Kota-ravintola 108 runs
... (15 teams)
Here is also a picture of incredibly tough skier, Janne, who won the individual series, along with his prize (new skis). I am very proud to have skied with this guy.

Photo and video credits © 2014 by Jari Arkko