Sunday, January 8, 2012

Fortress Islands

King's gate

This makes absolutely no sense. Spending four hours to make one run down a hill of ten meters. And destroying my skis in the process.

Yet, it makes perfect sense. I am in Suomenlinna, a fortress island outside Helsinki. Suomenlinna is one of the most beautiful places in Helsinki and a particularly good place for photography in snowy winter nights. Moreover, I really needed the exercise and I could not motivate myself to go out to the darkness unless there was something interesting.

Boat to Suomenlinna

Finally, I have not skied in Suomenlinna yet. I could add it to my list. And grow my list of vehicles I have used to get to slopes. That list already contains shoes, snowshoes, skis, cars, trains, ski lifts, snow cats, helicopters and horses. But no boats.

Suomenlinna harbor tunnel

Lights for the ships that squeeze through Kustaanmiekka

Fortress Islands

The fortress islands are a preserved, UNESCO world heritage site with fortifications. Their beginnings date back the year 1748, when the construction began. Regurlarly scheduled boats - part of the city public transport system - take you to islands for 2.20€.

In the summer the islands are a green oasis full of tourists. In the winter... they are a dark, lonely and cold place. My kind of place. I see a few people near the harbour, but there is absolutely no one else on the big island that has the hills. Except a few lit castle windows. Probably one of the few people who live here. Or maybe a ghost of a dead soldier. Or a guard that is about come and stop me.

The brewery building next to the harbor


The first view to my ski slope was full darkness:

Dark, very dark ski slope

There are small hills on the biggest island, the Susisaari/Kustaanmiekka area. Most of the hills are man-made, the one that I skied houses a bunker, for instance. Highest altitudes from sea are around 20 meters, but my hill was only about 10.

Preparing for the skiing after the long climb
Since this was the first day that Suomenlinna had snow this year, snow cover was ... minimal, maybe 3-4 centimeters. I thought it would be enough to ski on the grass, and the hill that I chose seemed optimal for this purpose. But when I made my first turns on the steep part of the hill there wwas a loud screeching noise. My skis would soon require servicing, again. I wonder if there's any material left in the bottom of my skis.

Even my small hill was interesting, very steep. But with more snow, there would be far more interesting skiing and snowboarding places. You could ski the rocky hills towards the sea, jump from the fortifications, and do many other interesting tricks. Take powder skiing pictures as you ski through castle window holes, ski in front of huge cruise ships, etc. Maybe I should come back when the winter gets really going!

Danger, Will Robinson!

A warning is necessary. Suomenlinna is a dangerous place. There are natural cliffs, man-made sudden drops (such as grassy field suddenly ending in a ten meter fall), rails, old gun fittings, sea, slippery rocks. If you come here to ski, or even to just picnic, please be aware of your surroundings. Watch your kids.

My tracks on the hill

The current weather in Suomenlinna along with a webcam can be found here. Suomenlinna can also be reached through a tunnel, but the entrances are hidden and only open for emergency vehicles. (Still, years ago tunnel trespassing was one of my hobbies...)


There aren't too many other skiers, if any. Or ever. But Suomenlinna has a nice restaurant, Suomenlinnan Panimo. They brew their own beer and offer reasonably priced meals. An extremely pricy restaurant, Walhalla, is on the Kustaanmiekka area. However, I can recommend the Siwa shop near the harbor for most purposes. A picnic meal in the island is the greatest option, at least when the weather is nice.

Brewery building

Chilly boat ride on a winter evening
Helsinki city center views from the harbor
Photo credits (c) 2012 by Jari Arkko

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