"Mongolia is kind of close, right?" Story about an attempt to ski everywhere in the world where there's snow. And in some places where there isn't. On and off-piste skiing on all continents, skiing into craters of live volcanoes, caving, climbing, photography, and travel.
We call this the "musta joulu" or dark Christmas in Finland. No snow. But there is rain, darkness, and depression. No matter, I have found a steep, muddy hill in Kauniainen and I can go ski that. But what I really wonder is how to take good ski photos in this weather. Would rice help?
And there really is no snow anywhere. The only snowman that I was able to find was inside:
But back to skiing and photography. Maybe I can take good photos on some other day, but I was indeed able to take some photos. As snow I used rice flakes, the kind that we make Christmas porridge with. Here's recipe:
Plenty of glög (mulled wine, served for everyone involved)
"Nalle" rice flakes
Mix the flakes with air and the skier
This recipe works for powdery snow. If you want to simulate wet spring snow, you should make porridge out of the rice flakes first.
But the skiing on mud was great. Of course. But it was very difficult. The main difficulty was turning among the tiny beginnings of trees and plants. When walking, you do not necessarily even recognise that something is growing in the ground, but when you try to make a turn and your skis slide right on the ground, they will hit whatever is growing from the ground at their strongest point near the ground. Make the skis turn takes a lot of effort. I think I succeeded in making one turn after several tries. And took one fall. Once again I noticed that to ski on something else than snow, the slope needs to be very steep. On the backsides of the Kauniainen ice skating hall the hills are steep enough. But when they are steep, you also start to lose traction, and it is easy to fall.
By the way, I used a flash to take the opening picture above with rice flakes. I can also recommend using flash photography in many situations, even in children's sled rides. A flash can fire for 1/20000s, much less than usual camera shutter times. This means that it can freeze flying snow (or rice!) in a very nice way. I used to build small piles of light snow and skied or sledded through. Just 20-30 cm of snow is usually enough to make snow fly around, if you hit it at speed. Set your SLR to all manual and the the flash on a low power setting (e.g., 1/16). This allows you to use continuous shooting mode and take several shots in sequence. Here's one example of a photo taken in this manner:
But I have had enough writing for today, I want to go see something that I got for Christmas, the Pilke free skiing movie from Finland.
Accident. On my way to skiing, just 5 miles from the slopes. Accident, Maryland is a sleepy town in western Maryland. And an infinite source of sign comedy: "Welcome to Accident". "Accident Fire Department". "150 Years in Accident". You can't make this stuff up.
But back to skiing. I was returning from a business trip, and had a day of conference calls ahead before my flight would depart. But by now I had grown weary of the insides of my hotel, and wanted out. I decided to rent a car and have the calls on the way to the slopes. I only got an hour and half on the slopes, but I think the road trip was still worth it. Also, just the driving in Virginia and Maryland is interesting, once you get out of the downtown DC traffic jams. The roads go through hilly countryside and forests.
I visited Wisp, a small ski hill three hours from DC. The weather was snowy, cold and windy. The forests around Wisp had 10-20 cm of untouched, soft powder. Why is it always the case that in small hills no one skies off-piste? The base was a bit rocky, but the it was still fun. The ski area has prepared some of the forest areas for skiing; the rest of the forest was pretty thick. I particularly liked the trees around The Face, a steep run straight from the top towards the lodge. But there were also woods to the skier's left from Squirrel Cage. As you near the lodge at the bottom, however, the forest becomes impassable.
Wisp has 213 meters of vertical, and an amazing 12 chairlifts and 32 runs. Amazing, because I did not see as many runs, and only one chairlift. But in the weather it was difficult to see. And, interestingly, I didn't actually succeed skiing a single official run on my visit.
The lodge was a positive surprise for such a small ski area. There was a large cafeteria area, but also a proper restaurant with menus and waiters. And a hotel, on a small ski area! A sign outside advertised local drinks and local skiing. I can only agree to that.
Nice small ski area! Recommended. A small minus for lack of an open wireless network, however.
An interesting thing also happened during my visit that made me think about what my attitude to skiing is. I had sent an SMS "skiing is good" from the slopes to a friend who was on her way to the same flights and had joined the road trip. For some reason, maybe due to an error in international roaming, my message kept being repeated. She asked if there was ever a case that skiing would not be good. Probably not. On this blog at least I've never complained about skiing, no matter what the weather or snow or grass situation was. Skiing is always good.
Funny signs from Accident:
Ski local - drink local? Great principle!
Lighthouse somewhere in the middle of Maryland? WTF?
Dec 6th. Independence. Freedom. Important stuff. Well, freedom is still a bit difficult for us skiers, there not being enough snow yet for freeskiing in Southern Finland.
But there is enough snow so that Vihti Ski is already open! And Kauniainen has enough snow that grass slides better. The season has opened!
Vihti is properly open, the main run is in good shape. On the sides I was even able to find some untouched snow (albeit with somewhat rocky base). And it was fun skiing through the vegetation left from the summer. The early days of the season are good! And I had not seen 2-3 meter cow parsleys before! (Or were they wild angelicas? cow parsnips?) In any case, hitting these soft plants was far more fun than hitting small trees. You just need to make sure you identify the plants in time!
In Vihti we were puzzled by the ferris wheel sitting on top of the hill. WTF?
Oh, and one more thing about the freedom. Freedom is always associated with responsibility. In Kauniainen, I hiked up the frosty slope around midnight, carrying my small miniskis. But at the top I realised my foldable poles had been left out from my backpack. Doh! Careless and stupid. No matter on this small hill, but would have been a big problem on other mountain excursions. How stupid can you be? I'll be more careful in the future.
And I paid a price for the stupidity: the small skis are difficult to use on steep slopes, particularly without poles.
But the Finnish independence day also got me thinking about indepedence in general. We are of course proud of our independence. Usually one considers the national aspects, but I wanted to raise some other aspects that matter to us outdoors people. For instance, the freedom to roam or "everyman's right" as it is called in Finland. This is a law that makes it possible for anyone to move about the nature on anyone's land, as long as you are not coming too close to someone's home. This law is what makes it possible for us to spend time skiing or hiking in the nature, without worrying about trespassing someone's property. Such laws do not exist in all countries, however, and even where they exist they are occasionally challenged. I'd like to dedicate this article to defending the rights of the public for our free lives, be it about outdoors or other things. We should not need a permission, monitoring, or control.
Happy independence day!
Professionals must have professional gear. Miniskis for the coming challenges: