Monday, May 28, 2012

Last Descent

Artificial ice climbing tower a.k.a. construction crane with a pump

Something terrible happened last week. On Friday we learned that a friend lost his life skiing down from Mt. McKinley. I do not want to talk about the accident, writing this text alone is hard enough. But I thought I'd return to a few happy memories with Ilkka.

He was always friendly, down-to-earth, and ready to help others. Just a few weeks ago he was helping me find skiing locations in Oulu. (Incidentally, that was on e-mail. I missed meeting him in person by a day as when I got to Oulu, as he had just left for the expedition. Now I wish I had been there a day earlier...)

You could also climb inside the construction crane

And he was a great skier and climber. One of the best in Finland; he was the first Finn to ski down from a 7000 meter peak, for instance. He was always in control, always knew what he was doing, always seemed to have more strength left than others.

And he was a constant source of climbing ideas and opportunities. When I visited him in Oulu in the early 2000s, we once went ice climbing on a dam wall in the city center of Oulu. The next winter he took me to an old construction crane they had acquired from somewhere, put up next to a river, and added a pump. It was wonderful for ice climbing. Who comes up with such brilliant ideas?

Not to mention other activities. This year he and his friends participated in the Ylläs 24 hour ski marathon. The idea was to ski as much vertical as you can within 24 hours. Ilkka's photography has also been wonderful to look at. And he loved the outdoors. I remember some business trip that he took when we were colleagues, where he stayed in a tent in a city park. Even got interviewed by some radio station. At the time I was grateful that he didn't mention our company name :-)

I am going to miss him.

Photo credits (c) by Jari Arkko

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Glacier du Kauniainen

The glacier

Global warming is real. I can tell it by the speed that Glacier du Kauniainen is melting. Luckily the glacier always grows back in December for some reason. Maybe some temporary ice age that always hits us at that time.
Melting in progress


Last week I wrote about our supposedly last ski run in Kauniainen. Well, it turned out that there is still snow left this weekend. Not much, only about a meter and half. It is probably gone by the end of the day, so this will the real end of the season.


With such as small patch of snow, the skiing was not that great. So I went to the top of the hill and tried grass skiing as well. I figured that with the 9.90€ miniskis, it wouldn't matter so much if there'd be damage to the skis. To my surprise it was possible to ski the grass all the way down. Though it would have been better had the slope been much steeper. The ski hill in Kauniainen is already pretty steep, so this just goes to show that friction on grass is far higher than on snow. Interestingly, dead grass is also more slippery than growing grass.

Grass skiing

Photo and video credits (c) 2012 by Jari and Janne Arkko

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Grani Still Going Strong


May 20, and we are still skiing in Kauniainen. Or Grani, as it is affectionately called. My local ski hill is a treasure that just keeps on giving. I have lost count how many times I have written about the last ski run of the season on this hill, just this year. And there is still snow!

Racing in Kauniainen, May 20


There is only a small patch of snow left, however, so we've appropriately chosen to use small skis. Or miniskis as they are called. On my recent trip to Bolivia I had these skis for backup, but never needed them. But I've been itching to try them out.

However, I had never used them when I was a kid, so the experience was entirely new. I must say that they are far harder to use than I imagined. It would have been dangerous to put them on for the first time at 17,000 feet on that icy 40 degree slope in Bolivia last weekend. The binding mechanism is not secure and keeps coming off. The skis are so short that there is no balance. Even my son Janne who normally wants to ski without poles wanted poles for additional stability today. The sides are all plastic, so edging on ice would have been difficult. After a couple of runs we started to understand how to ski on the miniskis, but it was still not easy. I'm probably fixated to my normal skiing style, unable to adapt to anything new.

Fall 1

Fall 2

Fall 3

My friend Jarmo found out that it is easier to ski on the miniskis if he uses regular ski boots on them. Seemed to work well for him. In general, getting the right boot fit so that the skis fit well into them is an issue. For most men's hiking boots, for instance, the skis tend to be too narrow. Given the lack of stability, a helmet is recommended. Due to being so short, the miniskis are also remarkably easy to climb up with, as long as there is soft snow, grass, or other material underneath that is not too slippery.

Walk-up stance


In any case, the skis were fun for this slope. It was very warm, over 20 degrees, and the kids kept finding interesting things from the slope. Thirty golf balls, for instance. There were also enough parts of broken race gates so that we could construct our own short race track.


This time it may really be the last ski run of the season. I'd love to ski here in June, but ten days seems too far away. The patches of snow are too small to survive that far.


The miniskis are fun to try, good for skiing down from a pile of snow in the yard. But not so good for other types of skiing. (For starters, they are not for adults, these are children's skis.) And I'm unable to adapt my skiing style to anything else than regular skis. This was also quite evident when I tried snowboarding a couple of years ago.

Poles and miniskis


By the way: I will write something about my Bolivian experiences as soon as I have sorted all my pictures. All I can say now is wow, just wow. It was an incredible adventure. And I'm so glad everyone is safely back from that mountain.

If the slope ends before slowing down, run!

Photo credits (c) 2012 by Jari Arkko and Jarmo Ruuth

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bolivia Is Kind of Close

Bolivia is kind of close

I have finished my meeting in Washington DC and more work awaits me next week in California. But first things first. There's a weekend in between, and what better way to spend the weekend than to fly 16,000 kilometers to Bolivia?

I'm expecting action packed two days. Wish me luck. I don't even know if I'll be able to breathe at the airport at La Paz as it sits at 13,300 feet (4061 meters). And the going gets just tougher from there. When I start my return journey, the aircraft flies just 500 kilometers before it needs to make a refueling stop. The airport is so high that the aircraft cannot get up with any meaningful fuel load.

And I also don't know if I'll manage to find the necessary help to take me to the real mountains. Or if I'll find snow or be able to climb at all in the extreme altitudes. Or if my gear makes it with me to La Paz; losing the luggage is very likely, in fact. Or if they let me the country, as the information about the vaccination requirements is conflicting.

Trip length

As a way to deal with one of these uncertainties, I have acquired backup skis that fit into my carry-on luggage. If my real skis fail to make it to Bolivia, I can carry these miniskis to the mountain. These children's skis might be strong enough to allow me to do at least a bit of skiing down the mountain.


Anyway, the most likely outcome is that I'll spend my weekend with a headache in my hotel bed. The altitudes are just so high. Getting as far as the snow would be a real win, but I'm not counting on this happening. Hopefully it will be an interesting experience anyway.

Photo credits (c) 2012 by Jari Arkko and the Great Circle Mapper

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Snowless in Oulu

Amazing views from the high mountain tops of Heinäpää

I am amazed how bad the snow situation is. I am in Oulu, 600 kilometers north from home, but there is much less snow here than on my local hill. But I have to try to find skiing, given that I dragged my skis along for this trip. (In the last couple of years, there's only been a handful business trips that I have not taken my skis with me. And I travel almost every week.)

Ready for some off-piste fun at Köykkyri

But back to Oulu. I have gotten some local help. My friend Ilkka has given me a list of places where I might still find some snow. The ones that I have time to try are all in Oulu or within a few kilometers of driving distance. I decide to try Heinäpää in Oulu and Köykkyri in Kempele.

Unfortunately, Ilkka was unable to join me for these adventures, as he had already left for his own skiing expedition. Ilkka: when you finally get to the top of Denali, let us know how the skiing was compared to Heinäpää! Denali or Mt. McKinley is North-America's highest mountain at 6,194 meters. But due to its northern location and cold weather, it often appears on lists of world's most difficult mountains to climb. On the day that I was in Oulu, the weather in Denali was -40 and 60 km/h wind. But hey, it was sunny! Good luck with your climb, Ilkka! The expedition's progress can be followed from their blog.


An inviting ski area sign if I've ever seen one
"Köykkyrin hiihtomaa", the ski land of Köykkyri

There is some snow left!

Köykkyri is Finland's smallest ski center at a whopping 25 meters of altitude difference. The length of the ski run is 135 meters. Fortunately, I do not have to ski the entire length this time - that would be a full-day expedition. Almost all snow has melted, there's only small patches left. I try to ski them anyway, taking off my skis for the parts between the patches.

It would be interesting to visit this place in the winter, though. The place seems like a nice community and club-run operation. I prefer these places over commercial ski operations.

Grass/snow skiing

Kempele Pyrintö sports club house at Köykkyri

Off-Piste in Köykkyri

The best part of Köykkyri is not really the official slope. Going from the top to the skier's right there's a short but steep face. Steep enough to be fun, and steep enough to hold a little bit of snow even now. Recommended!

The steeps at Köykkyri off-piste


Preparing for the climb of the summit snow ridge in Heinäpää

I thought it would not be possible to have a smaller ski area than Köykkyri. But Heinäpää, a closed ski area is just laughable. The altitude difference is maybe ten meters, if that. Back in its glory days, it sported Europe's shortest ski lift. The area closed in 2000 due to lack of customers. Go figure.

Surprise visitor at Heinäpää. Groke or "Mörkö" from the Moomins

But Heinäpää is not without merits. For one, the view towards the paper mill in sunset is awesome. For two, this is an entire sports center with football fields, sports halls, and so on.

But the biggest kick that I got was meeting Groke at the top. This scary character from the Moomins gave the mountain an icy feeling, even in this spring weather.

Speaking of the spring weather, the entire hill was free from snow. Luckily at the top there was a two meter pile of snow, probably collected as the paths were being cleaned from snow during the winter. OK, OK, lets say 120 centimeters. The south face of the pile is all covered by sand and garbage, but the north face has just a little bit of rotting grass on top of the snow. Good enough for me! Put the boots on, climb to the top, ski down, making an almost entire turn.

Reaching the top of the Heinäpää ski center

Important Parameters

At this time of the year, lift tickets in Köykkyri are pretty cheap. In this millennium, lift tickets in Heinäpää are also very cheap. In both cases you'll have to walk up yourself. The good news is that it is not a very tiring climb.

Skiing down Köykkyri under the current conditions took 140 seconds, including all the running and carrying skis between patches of snow.

Be sure to watch the video from above as well. The video includes also episodes 1 and 2 of the Planetskier Ski Maintenance School, on washing your skis and boots after skiing in dirt.

Crossing grassy patches. No, crossing snowy patches on grass.

Photo and video credits (c) 2012 by Jari Arkko

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Grani Summer Ski

Summer in Grani

I am at the summer ski center in Kauniainen. It is +15 degrees Celcius in hot sunshine and a gentle, warm wind. It is a perfect day to go skiing, in my swimsuit. Today is First of May, a national holiday in Finland. Most people party hard or gather in crowds in the city center to do silly things. I've chosen to do my silly things here on my local ski hill.

I try hard not to fall, however. Spring snow consists of large ice crystals that would not feel good on my skin at high speed. My 9-year old son is with me, and he keeps his clothes on. I'm glad that the next generation is wiser.

Skiing down, and trying very hard to not fall


The day gets only better as I visit the ski area for the second time later in the evening with my friend Bengt. The darkness begins to fall, and the colors are interesting. We arrive by 9 PM and leave a bit after 10 PM, and the day turns from almost fully lit into darkness during that time, having the sky go through many colors in the process.


Night colors

It has been a month since the ski area closed. And there is still plenty of snow. But now the middle part is melting fast, just a couple of days and we can no longer ski down the whole slope without carrying our skis part of the way. I wonder if there's any snow left in June? I've never skied in Kauniainen in June, but I doubt the snow will last. Maybe if we dragged some white plastic over the snow field and let it reflect most of the sun away? I'm predicting at most two or three weeks of any snow left at this point.

The ski lift has been abandoned for the summer

In any case, I did four runs here today. And got thirsty. During the season, the cafeteria is one of the best small ski area cafeterias. Just consider that they serve spinach pancakes and eco soft drinks! But now it was not open, which left Hölmölän burger grill (direct translation: stupid people's grill) and Grani McDonald's as my options. I chose to carry my own beverages, burying them in snow while I was doing another run. And finished the day by going to my own after-ski sauna.

Climbing up during the night

Night colors

Pepsi Max being chilled

My after-ski sauna

Photo credits (c) 2012 by Jari Arkko and Janne Arkko