Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Burger Place with a Half-pipe

It is darn cold outside. Storm. Better go inside to the Hesburger, because they have an indoor half-pipe. The world's only burger place with one! Also, as far as I know, the only full-size half-pipe indoors in the world! Or is that only half-size, ha!

The half-pipe is indeed great, and our timing is great because the Russian snowboarding team is on their lunch break, and we get to use the place all alone. The teams from all around the world travel here, Vuokatti, to practice when it is off season. But this place isn't just for off-season, it is open all year around, and the half-pipe takes such a precise form and is so perfectly iced that I suspect it is better than most outdoor ones. Go Finland!

Amazingly, all this fun is also free, if you have a lift ticket for the ski area. And, since I had left my skis a few hundred meters away, turns out that you can even get test equipment for loan, again for free. And, given that the half-pipe is practically made of ice, they don't mind if you ski it.

And it really is inside a burger place. You can sit in the tables and view the half-pipe from the back windows, showing the action at the frozen underground tube that hosts the half-pipe.

Anyway, the half-pipe was one episode in what was also otherwise interesting visit to Vuokatti. I happened to be hanging out in a bar with my friend Zach, and mentioned him that me and Tero had planned to find some place to go skiing the next day. We were thinking of the alps, but Zach convinced me that we'd want to head up north instead, and invited us to stay at his place.

Much appreciated, thank you Zach! And your wonderful family for hosting us, and skiing with us.

Vuokatti on the outside was quite similar to my previous visit here a couple of years ago. I love the colours in what is practically night skiing even during the dark day. It was early season, so only a few slopes were open, but you could already ski (carefully) in the forest as well. Snowmaking was blasting at full speed, and contributing to the feeling of snowstorm on the mountain.

In Sotkamo you can find the local shop, "KRP". KRP is the Finnish equivalent of the FBI, so I'm not really sure what they are selling.

Photos and videos (c) 2016 by Jari Arkko and Tero Kivinen. This blog is also available in TGR. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


I wish I was a gardener, watering plants is so relaxing. Or a ski patroller, spraying the snow on the slopes. I also wish that I'd have a wall socket in my home for "snow" in addition to "power", "Internet", and "vacuuming".

Clearly, the guys at Playdoci near Seoul have a dream job :-)

Also, equally clearly, Playdoci has come up with a winning model: the downside with all those outdoor and indoor ski areas is that it is often darn cold. Something with snowmaking requiring cold temperatures.

But it does not have to be like that, and it isn't like that in Playdoci. If your snowmaking equipment works in a separate room, in a machine, and the snow is only sprayed through a tube to the actual ski hall, then the temperature in the hall can be quite reasonable. Think of fish or meat shops and the like, there's usually snow laying around somewhere under some products, and the temperature in the shop is still warm. The same principle works here. As long as there's sufficient influx of snow to the slope, the room doesn't have to be in minus degrees.

And so you can make your ski slope also the place for concerts, parties, warm plastic igloos, and have disco balls hanging from the ceiling.

But the Playdoci amusement park (or building) goes far beyond the ski slope. It hosts probably a thousand playthings for the kids, from drivable robots to drone flying to water park and to the ski slope. You can find it between Seoul and the Incheon airport, in the city of Bucheon. It is in theory half an hour from Seoul, but on any reasonable time of the day you can safely assume it takes at least an hour, due to traffic.

Coming back from this place, I had difficulty getting a taxi back. Thankfully the nice locals helped me by ordering a taxi for me. Yet another sign of how friendly the Koreans are.

Photos and videos (c) 2016 by Jari Arkko. This blog also available from TGR. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Conrad Seoul Sauna

When I travel, I try to find places where I can go to a sauna. It relaxes me... Last week I was in Seoul, South Korea, staying at the Conrad. This new hotel has a very nice gym & pool & spa area on the 8th floor. The pool is free of use for hotel guests, but the sauna costs 39,000 local (about 35€) to use. Nevertheless, I needed the relaxation. Badly.

It turned out to be a pretty decent setup. Two saunas, one hot (85-90C) and one steam room. Three jacuzzis with varying temperatures, and spacious and modern changing rooms. Not to mention the 25 meter pool, which is something else in a hotel!

Photos (c) 2016 by Jari Arkko

Yongpyong. Not Pyongyang.

Fortune favours the unprepared, as long as you pick the destination in the right Korea. I didn't know where I was going, or even if there'd be snow, but suddenly I was at the 2018 winter olympics village. Country #53.

I had been working sixteen hour days for the last ten days in Seoul and fried my brain in the process, so I asked Chloe from the hotel concierge to tell me where I could find snow. She drew a map of Korea for me, starting with the crux over the north part: "don't go there". Probably good advice :-) She drew the mountain ranges, and started calling the ski areas, even if it was too warm for them to be open this year at this time. But to her surprise, there was one that was open.

The next morning, after dozing off for three hours at the back of the hotel car, I was in Yongpyong. I asked about the "2018 Host" signs from Paul, the driver, and he said this is where the winter olympics will be held. Ha! I had not even known where the next ones will be held. What a coincidence! Then this must be the best place for me to visit! 

And it was good. The mountain had no natural snow yet, but one slope was open with the help of snow making, and another one was in the making. Good, sunny start for my ski season! I did not have opportunity to test the rest of the mountain, wondering a bit what the competition slopes will be like. There is over 700 meters of vertical, but the open slope was of course for beginners, so fairly flat. The area seems also nice for tree and off-piste skiing, given large areas of forest within the resort.

Local culture was also wonderfully interesting. Lifties greeting you in their Korean ways, "speed patrol" observing the slope, and generally everyone being quite friendly. This would be a nice place to spend more days...

NOW I know why I have not been so keen on making snowballs when I was a kid. I was missing the tool to make them. Fortunately for about 14 dollars you can buy one here.

There are plenty of restaurants in the resort, but maybe they are only open during the olympics... I ended finding the only food from the hot dog stand outside. It was good though. Also, interestingly, the local approach seems to be relatively low cost food and drinks in the resorts. A can of soft drink costs less than a dollar, 70 times less than a day ticket. And there was also a grocery store in the main resort building. Very useful!

Limousine service to the slopes... why not?

Photos and videos (c) 2016 by Jari Arkko. This blog is also available at TGR. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

25 minutes is enough

Apparently you *can* arrive at the airport 25min before intercontinental departure and still make it. Weather, taxi failure, clearing my own car from snow, stuck behind a fallen truck on the highway, not leaving enough time for these troubles, etc. Phew.

Thank you Finnair!

And all my luggage made it through. I didn't think any of it -- 2 bags and one ski bag would make it.

The flight was uneventful, when we finally got going. I was interested to see though what kind of detour the route to Seoul makes. Stay far clear from North Korea, or Chinese military exclusion zones?

In other news, I have now arrived in Seoul, South Korea, and find the place modern and very friendly.  The hotel lady bringing my luggage asked about the ski bag, and half an hour later she called me that she had found an open ski area. And apologised that only one slope is open. There is however time for more areas and slopes to open, as I'll be busy for the next week and a half, in meetings.

Having arrived, it was kind of funny to be in a place where I have little understanding of the local language or culture. I almost got money from an ATM at the ariport, until I noticed the sign "NOT ATM". And four of us jet lagged people tried desperately to get some good local food, but did not manage to use the ordering user interface (which was only in Korean), so we ended up eating at the "Burger Hunter Plus". Hmm...


Photos (c) 2016 by Jari Arkko. Route picture by FlightRadar24.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Packing for Seoul

I'm packing for a business trip to Seoul. I have the formal clothing needed for my meetings, i.e., t-shirts... and USB charger... very heavy stuff. And a boatload of equipment in case I'll manage to find some ice climbing, hiking, or skiing. I'll need three checked bags just to haul all this stuff, and I still have to leave my caving gear out because it won't fit :-)

I'll be busy for a week and a half of this almost two week trip, but I may have the last two days to recover, and find something interesting to do. Seoul at least used to have a 25 meter indoor ice climbing wall. I have had difficulty finding it on Internet though, so a bit fearful it might have gone out of business. But I have a lead at least since this morning, so keeping fingers crossed!

The other thing I want to try and go do is skiing. I haven't skied in Korea before, and I just have to collect this country to my list. My friend Tero has skied here when he was young and lived with his family there for a while. And there are plenty of skiing places, but the challenge is whether any of them are open in mid-November (as I come back on Nov 21st). Lets see. I'd settle for a mountain top with some snow, or a partially completed snow-making slope.

Photos (c) 2016 by Jari Arkko

First trips booked!

I'm tired for working too hard on an upcoming business trip, but I'm also happy that two long weekend ski trips early next year are coming together.

We booked one with a seven friends from work to ... not sure where, but we have flights to Germany and target in Austria. Ischgl again? Or maybe St. Anton. Maybe something else. In any case, a fun trip with fun people. A well-balanced trip, focusing both on skiing and after skiing :-)

We also booked another trip with Jarmo to Andermatt in Switzerland. Never been there before, but I hear it is good! Although I have to say, the initial inspirations were to make this trip to Kazakhstan so it is a bit of a downgrade in the weirdness scale. But I love Switzerland, this trip will be now so much nicer and more relaxed, and probably have better skiing. And with the latest election results, maybe we don't need the return tickets? And it is so much fun to ski with Jarmo, we always find the most challenging skiing to be had. It is going to be an adventure again!

Copyright (c) 2016 Jari Arkko