Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Good Times in the Dot-Kom Bubble

Last week I was in Moscow to talk about the benefits of open Internet. And, of course, I wanted to check out the local skiing scene. Fortunately, as I was leaving, СНЕЖ.КОМ offered indoor skiing on the way to the airport. Country #48 is therefore Russia.

I'm sure Russia would have even more interesting things in the real mountains, but in April the local hills around Moscow no longer had snow. And I would not have had time for an excursion further away.

But no worries, СНЕЖ.КОМ gave me an opportunity to ski for two hours. Its basic design is similar to many others; an elevated tube. Or bubble :-) that gently slopes towards the sky on pillars. The vertical difference in this case was 70 meters, reaching the level of nearby 25-storey apartment buildings.

Two ski lifts serve the ski run, one chair lift and one anchor lift. The main ski run is straight, steeper in the upper parts and then levelling off. There's a nice snow park on the side with rails, jumps, and an huge air-filled pillow for landing from a crazier jump. (I wish I'd dare try to something like that, but not today at least. What scared me most was the gap between the jump and the landing site. Wouldn't want to land short.)

The main ski run is not very steep. This is typical of many indoor ski places, as they cater mostly for the beginner skiers. The upper part is decent though, you can make good turns and build up some speed. I have noticed that twisted, turning design on the indoor slopes is better for both advanced and beginner skiers, as one side of the slope can be steeper than the other one. Nevertheless, СНЕЖ.КОМ is a good place to ski at, and fares better and larger than most other indoor ski places.

The place is otherwise well run, clean, efficient, and a pleasure to visit. There are easy-to-use lockers for all visitors. There are also 3-4 gear and clothing stops, a Subway restaurant outside, and inside a full-service bar and restaurant. I stopped by for a quick lunch. All menus are in Russian, however, so I wasn't quite sure what to order. In finally got a sandwich, and a hot chocolate. The hot chocolate was really hot chocolate, by the way, in a cup. With a separate cup of water or milk to mix with chocolate. Very good.

Interestingly, as I was taking photos of the building from the outside, an uniformed security person showed up to stop me. And remove all photos from my camera. Communication was difficult, "tourist" did not seem to do the trick, nor did the deletion of the most recent photo. Fortunately, someone else showed up and started commanding the security person about tourists being able to take photos. He was headed to СНЕЖ.КОМ; perhaps a worker or manager. Anyway, my day and photos were saved by that stranger. Thank you!

And overall, with the exception of too much traffic on Moscow's roads, I had a nice visit. Politicians aside, the people are relaxed and nice. I met with many people, from Internet specialists to skiers. Friendly bunch. Good times in vodka shots evenings as well :-)

(To reach out to СНЕЖ.КОМ go to snej.com, while we await for .КОМ to appear as a new top-level domain.)

Photos and videos (c) 2015 by Jari Arkko. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

One of those rounds

This is how we do ski lifts in Finland. I wanted to give you a taste of one round of the 24-hour ski competition in Ylläs, Finland. As if doing 30+ miles of vertical in one day wouldn't be enough.

This is unique, and not just because of the competition. Only two sauna gondolas exist, and only the one here in Ylläs is on a running ski lift. And even they have not used it for mixing proper sauna sessions with skiing.

Ylläs 24h competition begins today Saturday at 2pm. There is still time to join!

Thank you Katri and Mikko and the lifties for making this story possible.

Update: Competition in Progress

The competition is now in progress. Here are some pictures from the competition:

The sun is setting in the evening:

The darkest part of the competition is of course the early hours of the day. It is dark, you do not see many people, if any (depending on how you happen to hit the gondolas with respect to other competitors). The sunrise is a very much awaited event after the night, but this time the sunrise was also very beautiful:

Update: Done!

The competition is over, and getting rid of the ski clothes and the boots that I wore for about 25 hours is a relief. But I am hurting everywhere. Feet. Calves. Knees. Thighs. Butt. Stomach muscles. Arms. Hands. Nose (from sun). Neck. Back.

Even with having just woken up from a 12-hour sleep that I started right after the results ceremony, I feel my body was really strained in the 24 hours. But it felt good to do it, and after some days of rest my muscles will feel good and be stronger from the experience.

The competition was mostly smooth running, except for one incident for my fellow competitor Edwin. At some point the organisers decided that they want to slow us down and started putting up a net fence to guide us to the other side of the slope. However, this happened in the middle of the night, in the middle of the slope, in the darkest corner of the otherwise relatively well lit slope, right through the track that we had already been running for hours. I'm sure you can predict what happened.

A few of us saw them - me included - and went around, wondering what they were up to. But Edwin didn't see the barely visible net, just wondered why the two ski instructors were jumping frantically as he was speeding past. Bam, straight to the net. I'm very glad that he wasn't hurt, just a few minor burns in hands. But it must have been a major impact, at that point in the slope we would have been doing maybe 70-80 km/h, and he is a fast skier. Maybe the fastest among us. Fortunately he was able to continue. After getting untangled from the net, he was behind the rest of us two rounds. If it were not for this accident, Edwin for sure would have been past me in the end results, maybe others too.

Anyway, the results. The winning team was Ylläs Kota (121 rounds) and in the individual competition Leo Pasto (122 rounds). Congratulations, amazing results! I came third, with 120 rounds. And we all got wonderful prizes, from Head skis to backpacks and tickets. I got a 2016 season pass for Ylläs, which of course means that I still have to go skiing, even with all this pain in my muscles :-)

But perhaps more important than this that we all skied quite a lot, and in the end safely. But how much, exactly. My main goal in the competition was to break the 50 km barrier, and with my 51,600 meters of vertical I did! Very happy about that. For distance we skied more than 300 kilometres. We also skied quite fast. I did not have GPS on all the time, but I measured some of the runs. Even on the slowest route, Aurinkorinne, I measured 98 km/h on the steep part. And my first run down the Worldcup run was at 114 km/h.

I could also clearly feel the benefits of my new skis. Last year I used my general-purpose skis, and they start to twitch and become unstable at higher speed. The new ones, Atomic GS racing skis worked very well. They were very stable at any speed, and I was able to slide faster on the flat parts than those competitors that used general-purpose skis. However, the racing skis are also heavier, and in the final hours I my hands and feet were getting tired from carrying them, and on making the necessary skating pushes to get to the start of the slopes. More muscle needed, I think.

The full results can be seen below:

And now some pictures from the ceremonies. Here is Leo Pasto receiving his new Head skis:

And here are all the winners:

Meal "poronkäristys" (sautéed reindeer) after the competition:

Update: Three Weeks Later

Three weeks later and I'm slowing getting back in shape. After the competition I was in bruises from hitting things while running from the lift and down the stairs, and my airways had become inflamed from heavy breathing in that cold air. I did not have fever or need medicines, but was coughing, was very tired, and clearly not well. The doctor gave me about two weeks for the recovery, and now indeed I am more ore less back in shape. Haven't had a chance to visit a ski slope yet, as I wanted to avoid exerting effort and my local ski hill would have required climbing to ski the remaining snow. Hopefully there is some left when I get back from my current trip.

Also, the video from the sauna got picked up by Teton Gravity Research as a "TGR Pick", and widely shared. Here is the link to my TGR version of the article.

Photos and videos (c) 2015 by Jari Arkko. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Volvo 740 Skis

I bet you have not heard of Volvo skis. I did not either, nor has the Internet. But today I am testingblue Volvo 740 skis that feel almost brand new, and taking them to the ski hill on my blue Volvo 740 car.

I would also like to know if today's skis are better than the ones from 1980s. Which ones are faster, my new Atomic racing skis or the Volvos? But first some history.

As noted, there is nothing about these skis even on the Internet. These "Genuine Accessories" are probably a model made on request of Volvo for marketing purposes. The skis come from Austria and have a Salomon sticker, but the sticker might have come from the installation - the skis have Salomon S437 bindings. Perhaps surprisingly, the bindings still work perfectly, despite decades of storage!

The manufacturer could be Salomon, but most likely some Austrian one. Perhaps Atomic, Blizzard, Fischer, Völkl, ... Does anyone have any information on this?

The skis are a donation from Mikko Vuola (thanks!). The Vuola family previously held a car dealership, Keskusautohalli, the first Volvo dealership outside Sweden, actually. The skis come from Mikko's uncle, Tauno Vuola. They have not been skied much on, based on the good condition they have perhaps been tested but not used actively. Mikko tells this story about his currently 88 year old uncle:

"Tauno was the second oldest of the brothers and a tough sportsman. Among other things, he won a ski jumping competition in Lieto, at a superior result of 33 meters. As he was putting on the skis before the competition, a couple of boys came up to him and predicted that it would be useless for him to participate. Tauno had asked who will win, and the boys said "Tauno Vuokka, of course". The boys knew about his reputation but did not recognise the man."

But how do the Volvo skis work today? Incidentally, the skis are almost the same length (195 cm) as my new Atomic racing skis (191 cm). They are also the same length as my old Head skis from the 1980s. Until they were stolen. In the 1990s I skied on 195 cm K2 Extremes.

The first experience with the Volvo skis is surprising. I have for a long time skied on shorter carving skis, and in the first turn I notice that I have to pay attention or else the longer skis will get tangled up with each other. My new Atomics, on the other hand, turn much easier due to their stiffness and slight carving form. But after some practice the Volvo skis seem fun to ski with as well. They also go well straight. Maybe not as well as the stiffer Atomics, but still. On the other hand, carrying the Volvos is much easier due to their lightness. And the Volvos are far more stable at speed than my usual 171 cm general purpose carving skis.

To test the skis, I ski the Kauniainen ski hill as fast as I can, straight down. With a GPS in my pocket on the first day I get 76 km/h on the Atomics. The speed is affected by wind and snow conditions; on my ski hill turns aren't really needed :-) The next day I used the Volvo skis. The test is complicated by the fact that the ski area personnel went home as they thought no one would show up in the rain. But of course I did, and now I had to walk up the hill. There was also strong headwind. After three runs I got the speed 66 km/h on the Volvos. Probably partially due to the headwind, however. The next day I try again, and get speeds in the upper 60s, and one measurement at the exact same speed as on the atomics, i.e., 76 km/h. I should note that the measurements are quite error-prone, given that I used an application on my Android phone rather than a decided GPS device. The 76 km/h result is possibly a few kilometres too high.

Nevertheless, the Volvo skis do work quite well, particularly in speed. They are close to the performance of my new racing skis on straight runs. On turns we'd probably see some bigger differences.

The skis are true Volvos - lasting for a long time and performing reliably and efficiently. Well done!

For the test, I first tried to use my new boots, but it turned out that I could not adjust the bindings on the Volvo skis enough to fit them. Fortunately, I my old Salomon SX 92 boots fit the bindings perfectly. And are of course more appropriate partners for the skis. These boots are still in great condition, and I used them for about 15 years from the early 1980s.

When skiing on the Volvos, I found out that I didn't really want to go change to the other skis because that would have required me to put on the not-so-easy-to-use modern boots. I really liked the back-loaded boots, and SX 92s were still very precise and powerful tools, just like the new ones.

I also noticed something similar to what my friend Catharina had experienced when she tried retro skiing a few weeks ago: it would have been good to have some 1980s clothing to go with all this great gear. However, those clothes are long gone, thrown away years ago.

Photos and videos (c) 2015 by Jari Arkko. The back-to-the-future graphics is by Garron. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi.