Sunday, February 26, 2017

Bird Horniness Eye Swamp Cave

Bird Horniness Swamp Eye cave. A great name, at least. But is the cave great?

We were led to this cave once again by the excellent article in Retkipaikka, and again by Antti Huttunen, as is the case often.

We would normally have been able to leave the car quite near the cave, on the forestry road. But it had snowed, and my old Volvo didn't seem to like to push through. I backed, and parked the car in an intersection that was still clear of snow. We walked... and once off the road, the going got tougher in the deep snow and the up-and-down terrain.

Approaching the cave from above, we found it exactly as described in the article. Drop down through the snowy hole, two partially connected rooms and a couple of interesting squeezes leading forward. Those tight spaces were fun to try, but they didn't lead anywhere, at least not for a human-sized crawler. A nice, but small cave.

We climbed back and were ready to return to the car. But decided to take the lower, swamp route back. Then two things happened. One, Janne slipped and hurt his hand a bit (it was OK the next day). Two, I found two interesting holes on our path. Ominous dog (?) steps lead to one of them, so I was kind of worried a bit of finding animals somewhere, but wanted to peek in anyway.

What I found was another, much bigger part of the cave. A big space under a slab, with ice flows across the rock. To us, this seemed like the main cave more than the smaller one that was shown the pictures from the article. Did Antti visit just the first one or both caves?

This cave is definitely worth visiting. And if you do, stop in both parts!

The first cave:

 The entrance hole to the first cave:

Exit from the second cave. The cave has three entrances.

Sunset in behind the Karkkila Church:

Photos and videos (c) 2017 by Jari Arkko and Janne Arkko. This blog is also available at the TGR website. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Sotkamo Dress Code

"Can you take my skis to the clothes check?" "Why not, we also take baseball bats." Dressed in a black suit, I'm on my way to a bar, to Zach's birthday party in Sotkamo. With boots and skis... my hotel is at the top of the hill.

I spent 36 hours in Sotkamo and nearby, and managed to not just attend the party, but also follow the local guide to forest skiing in Vuokatti. But after skiing in the forest for a while, she got lost and shouted "We will never find our way back!". Maybe this had something to do that she was nine and never skied in the forest before. But it was easy to get back to the slopes.

There are easy forest routes from the right side of the Perskatti (map). Also, as my guide noted, "Go to Ripa's or go home!", if you are on the slopes, be sure to stop at the Ripa's cottage cafe near the top of the hill.

I also drove an hour to the slopes in Paljakka, and while there was only a handful of other skiers, what I found was extraordinary for Finland: plenty of powder and steep, open forests to ski through. You can find the best forest skiing near the Hiidenrinne and Kuru 1 slopes (map). It is shame that this ski area isn't more widely known. There are also many other activities besides skiing, such as renting snow mobiles. And a modern hotel / entertainment complex. Maybe worth trying some day.

Finally, on my way to the airport, I stopped at Kajaani's local ski hill, Vimpelinvaara. Here I was the only skier, and this hill is tiny but nice. There are two slopes, a regular slope which isn't very steep and the steeper park slope, with jumps and other features. There's a small cafeteria hut as well.

Pictures from Paljakka:

Pictures from Vimpelinvaara:

Pictures from Vuokatti:

Photos and videos (c) 2017 by Jari Arkko and Zach Shelby. This article is also available at the TGR site. Tämä artikkeli löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Backpacks are DEATH

"It is not about your experience with backpacks, it is about PEOPLE DYING". The ski patrol's inexplicable rule prohibits me to take my backpack to the ski hill in New York.

This is my first visit to U.S. after Trump took office, and my first ever problem with taking backpacks to a ski slope. Coincidence? Maybe not. Just think about it: travel ban - backpack ban. And considering what happened yesterday in Sweden, it actually makes a lot of sense.

Seriously though, the people at Thunder Ridge, NY, were nice. Even the ski patrol people. Particularly the ski patrol people. I was able to negotiate an exception to their rule, given that I was a blogger needing to carry a camera. After all, the ski patrol did believe in the importance of journalism, and obviously lame ski bloggers are at the centre of journalism's important role in bringing out the facts. The only problem was that I had to re-negotiate like ten times when running into different lifts and lifties. But it was all good.

And the facts are: none of my U.S. friends believed there could be skiing so close to New York City; they thought the story of a ski hill an hour north was fake news. Well, it wasn't. It is very real, while not big it is important for the kids, near for the city dwellers, and an overall fun place with varying terrain. the mid-week special tickets cost only 25$ for a day.

And it really is just one hour from the city, although you have to add another hour to get 5 miles out of JFK in the traffic that was standing still :-)

Unfortunately, I was only able to enjoy this playground for half an hour. While I had a ten hour layover in JFK, it took a while to rent a car... the airlines were unwilling to deliver my luggage to a layover point, so I had to get rentals... and I had an important work conference right when I arrived at the ski area. But no matter, call completed, the open parts of the ski area all explored, and I even made it to my next flight in time.

As a side note, I spend a lot of time on conference calls. And when I travel, I don't just look at convenient flight times, I schedule layovers so that I can take calls. Can't just travel from California to home, need to stop Wednesday morning for that call. So the layover was a necessity, not a choice. It was only afterwards that I started investigating what to do in New York. There's plenty to do of course, but I've done many of the sporty things (like skating or climbing) already, so I wanted to find something new. Thunder Ridge was a surprise find for me as well. My previous New York ski trips have been like four hour drives.

I should also say that going to ski lifts with backpacks CAN be dangerous. Be careful out there,  and take off the backpack before going to a chair lift at least -- getting the backpack tangled with the chair could be bad. As we saw recently in the story about the miraculous save of an unconscious man hanging from the Arapahoe Basin chairlift.

Photos and videos (c) 2017 Jari Arkko. This blog is also available at the TGR site. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta.

Friday, February 17, 2017


We took an airplane. A train. And hiked. For this? A kid slope half the size of my home slope in Grani. But it turns out we got to ski a route down liike no other: down the railroad tracks. And collect seven more ski areas.

We are in Obergom, Switzerland. The map showed a ski area. The web site said it is open. But maybe it is somewhere else, or really closed or we are confused. But no matter. Everything in Switzerland is always behind the church and a 10-minute walk. So was the kids slope that the ticket sales agent at the station directs us to. It. Had we asked for the way to the Matterhorn, it would probably also have been a 10 minutes walk.

It takes us 20 minutes to ski through the pictoresque village and find the lift. Seven Francs for the ticket, for the rope tow. We ski a few rounds, and then scout the areas around. There is untouched snow further away from the village and we try that, and hike back on the road.

But we look at out watch. The next train goes soon. We are almost out of time, but we decide to ski the old railroad tracks down to the station. That's a new one for us. We think there will be no trains before summer... but I keep watching to my back...

Our next stop is Realp, just on the other side of the Furka Base Tunnel. A bit bigger slope, but still small. Behind the church, 10-minute walk. Of course. We ski the flattish side area, with untouched snow, although it is closed due to avalanche danger from above, though we think no longer dangerous.

We also skied in Andermatt's Gemsstock and Täschen, Oberalp, Sedrun, and Disentis, all along the same train line. The Matterhorn-Gotthard Bahn rocks!

The weather in Oberalp and Sedrun was too bad to say much about these places, except that the restaurant complex at the Miles in Sedrun is good. In Disentis, we much enjoyed the powder fields from the Péz Ault anchor lift. Just be careful, as there are many spots here were snow has been dug and carried elsewhere to the ski area; there are sudden drops where the snowcats have moved. Also, we were kind of wondering about the "Disentis 3000" advertising, on a ski area that runs at most to 2833 meters, on this highest lift. But the powder was good!

By the way, back to Obergom: I realised that I had been to Obergom or the Oberwald train station before. A couple of years ago I was on autopilot driving from Austria somewhere else, unaware of my surroundings and the GPS brought me here, and tod me to take a boat. A boat! It turned out that it wanted me to board the train with my car, to cross the mointains. Which I did. But I have been more careful with GPS instructions sinne then.

Photos and videos (c) 2017 by Jari Arkko. This blog is also available at the TGR site. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Der Après-ski Zug

This is a brilliant idea. The Matterhorn-Gotthard Bahn doesn't just take you to the ski slopes, it also serves beer and after-ski music on the way there. Even on the 9:30am train.

You can count on the Swiss being innovative! Almost as innovative as the Finns, who have previously invented the "Spårakoff" pub tram for the Helsinki city transport. (Sadly, in recent years innovation in Finland has declined, and we now focus mostly on building subway lines that get never completed.)

The Matterhorn-Gotthard Bahn runs as the Après-ski Zug twice a day in both directions from Andermatt to Disentis. When going from Andermatt, though, we recommend getting off at Oberalppass and skiing to Sedrun, and when coming back, getting off at Nätschen and skiing to Andermatt. Try to beat the train on the path between Nätschen and Andermatt; it is doable but you'll have to hurry. At the end there's 100-200 meters of walking or running to the station.

Photos and videos (c) 2017 by Jari Arkko. This blog is also available at the TGR site. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Test

The sky is dark, but I can see lights behind. Suddenly a small object flies through the air. A small man. I think.

I move a bit out of the way. Apparently this large mound created by by the snow guns is being used as a jump by the five year olds. I'd never do those jumps myself...

I am on the Grani ski hill, on my free hour between conference calls, trying to decide whether Salomon MTN Explore 95s would be my new skis. The nice guys at Skiservice gave me a pair to test this week. I ski maybe ten runs... on the slope, both icy and with some softer snow. I'm a bit limited in trying the skis on typical off-slope conditions, but I do try to ski on the sides and snow piles a bit.

My old skis are delimitating, badly. I may be able to recover two working skis out of the three that I have (one ski was lost in an avalanche). But in any case, I need new skis.

Verdict? These are clearly good skis for an all-mountain experience, and ride very smoothly on all types of snow. Yet... I'm wondering about their performance on icy conditions. The skis have much rocker, and they are half a centimetre wider than my previous skis. I almost fall when I hit an icy patch on my my first run in Grani. You can ski this skis on ice, but you need to use them in a different way, and when push comes to shove, they'll probably fall short of what my previous skis could do on ice.

Great skis, also very good looking, but I think I'll need to try something else. I ski too much inbounds and on very hard ice to compromise that aspect of performance. Yet, if I pick less width, I'll probably sink in soft snow outside the slopes.

What would you recommend? Are other people struggling with the same questions?

Skiservice recommends Blizzard Zero G 85s. These bright yellow skis look great, and have noticeably less rocker and are even narrower than my previous ones. They are also more lightweight than the wider skis, and feature high-tech carbon construction. Thoughts?

Photos and videos (c) 2017 by Jari Arkko. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta.