Sunday, April 22, 2012

Two countries in eight hours

The main building at Kakiskalns ski area, Latvia

The eight-hour challenge was successful! I left in the morning to fly to Riga, Latvia. Eight hours after landing I boarded the evening flight back home from Tartu, Estonia. I skied in two new countries, Latvia and Estonia. The ski areas that I visited were Kakiskalns and Kuutsamäe.

My first view of the ski area in Latvia

The primary challenge with my trip was time. I could only burn one day on this and I had only one choice of flights in and out. But there was quite a bit of driving, not a lot of room for making navigation errors, and frankly too little time for the actual skiing. But in the end I was able to ski for one hour in the first place and a bit more than an hour in the second.

"Kakitis"? No shit...

I also attempted to find Suurmunamägi (big egg hill) from Estonia as I was driving towards the airport, but conflicting instructions from my guidebook, GPS, and the lady at the ticket office caused me to not find it in time; I had to abandon the search and go for my flight home. It would have been nice to find this hill as well, as it is the highest mountain in the Baltic states at a whopping 318 meters. (If you click on the Wikipedia link, you can see a picture where the hill is an almost visible bump in the horizon.) There is a road that leads to the top, and my plan was to stop a few meters short of the top, climb, and ski down. Oh well. Something to do next winter, perhaps.

Spring is coming?

Kakisklans, Latvia

I had some trouble finding this place, but once I did find it, the first view was appropriately depressing: a melting tiny ski slope in the middle of a big pool of brown water. The slope was maybe ten meters high. I thought this would be a fitting place to ski on a spring tour of the baltic ski states on a rainy Sunday. However, it turned out that this slope was the children's ski hill, and the real ski hill was on the backside of the main building.

The entrance to the Kakiskalns main building and bar

And what a main building that was! I like empire style architecture, and this old (Soviet era?) yellow building in the middle of nowhere was just wonderful. It also housed the excellent restaurant and bar.

Ski lifts and empire style architecture. Like.

But back to skiing. I was surprised by the existence of the main slope, but even more surprised about how good it was. It was short, but steep. Kind of reminiscent of my home ski hill in Kauniainen. I think there needs to be a little bit of steepness on the ski slopes that I ski; otherwise making turns will not be fun. An added bonus was that the ski hill was facing a river flowing underneath. The views were better than in most small ski hills. Of course, I was here late compared to how long winter lasts in the Baltic countries. The signs of spring were clearly visible.

Spring is coming

Hi-tech token booth at Kakiskalns

The ski area also had an interesting system for lift tickets. You do not buy a daily or hourly ticket, you buy individual lift runs on the ski lift. You'll receive an electronic token that counts how many runs you have left. I had time for ten runs, which cost couple of Lats (one Lat = 0.66 €).

I was quite afraid of getting stuck at the bottom of the ski area, however. The ticket sales are at the top, so if you run out of runs you'll have to climb up. Or beg for mercy from the lift operators.

Kakiskalns has only one ski run but it is steep

Kuutsamäe, Estonia

I took off from Kakisklans a little bit reluctantly, as the skiing was good.  I drove towards Estonia and the Kuutsamäe ski area. On the way I saw yet another flash of the speed cameras, but no speed ticket has been posted to me yet. (Speaking of speeding tickets, I never received any from my trip through Germany. Maybe they realized that seven kilometers above the speed limit would not be worth the trouble to track some foreigner down through the rental car agency.)

Views at the Kuutsamäe ski area

Once I arrived at the ski area, it was all covered in fog. The ski area had a number of T-bar lifts and runs. All the runs were pretty long but not that steep. Overall, the area felt like a relaxed place with enough space and not too many crowds. A good place to take your kids to learn to ski. And also potentially a good place to snowboard, practice some jumps, ski through forest routes, and enjoy sunshine. Except not today... visibility was far too bad.


The main ski lift at Kuutsameä

The restaurant and bar at Kuutsamäe

Important Parameters

The bar in Kakisklans offered food and drinks. Soups started from 2 Lats. Goulash soup was 2.90 Lat or about 4.40 €.

Kakiskalns bar

Kakiskalns menu

Lift tickets in Kuutsameä cost 20 € per day. For transport, I used FlyBe (Finnair low-cost airline), though one of the flights was operated by Czech Airlines. Both flights used ATR-72 aircraft. I can recommend booking the front seats, as most people try to book seats towards the back and near the exit that is at the back on this aircraft. There's usually a four seat configuration at the front which is a very nice place to sit by yourself. If you are on the first row facing backwards, you'll also get a nice view of the propellers. The only downside of this spot is that you'll be close to the stewardesses who may try to cut down on your camera use during turn-off-all-electronics period.

Travel in style. Reserve the front row on an ATR-72 and you get this. Alone.

The restaurant at the Kuutsamäe ski area was not as nice as the one in Kakiskalns. They did not offer soups, but Stroganov, for instance, was 1.70 €, so the prices were very reasonable.

Kuutsamäe menu


Both ski areas are nice local hills, well worth visiting by the locals. But you'd have to be insane to travel from another country to go to these places.

Arrival at the Tartu airport in Estonia

In particular, I liked the old architecture of the main building in Kakisklans, the view over the river, and the steep slope. Kuutsamäe has many more slopes, but they are not steep enough for me. I'd rather spend a day in the the former than the latter.

Traditional colored bathroom picture

I used ATR-72 flights by FlyBe and Czech Airlines

Photo and video credits (c) 2012 by Jari Arkko


  1. Hey, I have to that place- a great one really. You are lucky to have enough snow, though.

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  2. This is a really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw.Thanks for sharing.

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