Sunday, September 30, 2018

Largest indoor ski hall... somewhere between North Korea and Siberia

I'm stuck at a meeting in northern China, somewhere between North Korea and Siberia. Abandoned concrete housing projects fill the rainy horizon in this city that no one seems to have heard of. But this does not mean that the locals cannot have nice things. Or me. World's largest indoor ski hall, for instance?

This really is the last place one would think such a construction happens. But it is true, arguably the world's best and nicest indoor ski hall is in Harbin, China. The ski hall is also the largest in the world, as certified by the Guinness World of Records certificate.

The Wanda Ski Park, a stylish multi-level and multi-piste ski hall that rises above a huge mall and the darkness of the city's evening, painting the scenery with light emanating from the video screens covering the hall's walls.

The setup of the ski hall is a basic design of a huge, rising structure. It is so big that there are three slopes side by side, with the intermediate-level skier's slope dropping off more slowly than the other two and then turning back to bring the skiers to the starting point. Nice design, catering for different steepness-levels!

There are altogether 6 ski lifts, two efficient chairlifts and four magic carpets. In addition to the three main slopes there is a beginning area that is at the bottom and slopes only moderately.

The design and attention to detail is very good. Most other ski halls have unrealistic mountain scenery or colourful advertisements on walls. At Wanda Ski Park the overall design is white, with tasteful mountain scenery and light-coloured advertisements. The resulting feel is incredibly good, making the place feel even larger than it is.

When I first looked down from the top, I thought they had painted a picture of a castle at the bottom end. But the castle is actually a large, real building housing a cafeteria and a number of ice sliding tracks.

I realise people may not believe me, but I didn't know about the skiing until a day before my trip to the meeting started. I was in the meeting to make sure 5G specifications are in sync with a particular piece of security technology. A small thing, but for some reason it has been tough going... how can agreeing that two specs need to be in sync take 10 months and counting? Fortunately, in the end I found people from other implementation teams who obviously also struggled with the same detailed questions. What counts is that the code actually works.

I had some trouble finding a time slot to visit this place, as the meeting filled the days and my evenings were mostly filled conference calls in the European time zone. But I finally managed to find time one evening for a visit.

And when the week was over, it turned out that my flights were about to be delayed so much that I would have been stranded at Beijing airport. I opted for moving my flights a day ahead instead. This would mean that I'd be stuck a long day on non-aisle tourist class seats at row 50, on a day that would be my birthday. But, the plus side was that I'd have an extra day in Harbin. I spent it walking the city's temples, visit a "cave" bookstore, two visits to the sauna and pool. And yes, even more skiing!

More pictures from the slopes:

Beginner area and the castle:


This article has also appeared in TGR. Tämä artikkeli löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta. And all skiing articles can be found from!

Photos and videos (c) 2018 by Jari Arkko. All rights reserved.

Not really a cave nor could I get in...

Every time I go on a business trip, I try to look for places that I could either ski or go caving in. In Harbin, China, the language and Internet information differences were too big for me to figure out if there were any caves that I could visit. However, there was a reportedly nice bookstore that was built to resemble a cave.

Unfortunately, the bookstore was closed on the (holiday period) day that we visited there. Oh well. Not a cave, and not even getting in. The lamest work trip caving experience so far?

We visited the cave bookstore on a morning after a big, big meal and many refreshments. Here's one of the two whole lambs that we ate:

So I have to say we were a tad tired. But the meal and the drinking was not the only reason for this, for I had spent the night packing and the stressing out what to do with my flight tickets, as the Air China flights suddenly were 3 hours delayed... making me miss my connection. I ended up sleeping maybe three or four hours altogether that night, spending an hour and half on the Air China customer service line, and occasionally glancing at the sunrise:

This article has also appeared at the TGR site. And, of course, all caving related stories can be found from the site! Photos in this article are (c) 2018 by Jari Arkko and Alf Zugenmaier.

Sauna in Harbin

I was on a business trip in Harbin, China, at a decent hotel, the Songbei Shangri-La. It turned out that they had a VERY nice pool and sauna area.

Usually, it is difficult for me to find decent saunas outside Finland. There are some exceptions; in Austria and Switzerland they can be amazing. And I have not been to Russia, but I hear that they have a bit of the same sauna culture as in Finland. Harbin is a short drive away from Russia's Siberia. Perhaps the Russian culture influence has impacted the quality of saunas in Harbin as well?

In any case, a great sauna. Hot, 85 degrees, with a water bucket. Pool was quite good too, an infinity pool on the third floor of the hotel, overlooking nearby skyscrapers.

But otherwise the location of the Shangri-La left something to be desired; the only food source anywhere near was the hotel restaurant. I ate the whole week there. Good food, actually, but too much is too much :-)



This article has also appeared at the TGR site. And of course, all sauna and swimming articles can be from and sites!

Photos (c) 2018 by Jari Arkko. All rights reserved. All pool and sauna photos have been taken with permission and when there were no others present or when the facility closed.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

St. Peter's Basilica

Janne and I visited St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.Wonderful structure, and great to see the not-for-us gardens of the Vatican from above. Would be wonderful to visit. But can you ski in the Vatican?

If it ever snowed, and it probably sometimes has or will, there'd be enough slope somewhere in the garden. But there's no access!

The other option is the rock slope just in front the main presentation platform of the Vatican:

This looks definitely skiable on a rainy day and with plastic skis. However, I don't think they would like anyone to go and ski there. Unless there's a big mass for the religious skiers some day. While waiting for that, I don't think I can collect the Vatican to my skied countries.

Other pictures:

Photos (c) 2018 by Jari Arkko. All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Vienna Flak Tower

Is it an aquarium or a construct of the evil nazi regime? Well, both...

I have previously visited the nazi flak towers in Berlin and Hamburg, and while picking Tor up from the airport on our way to EuroSpeleo, we had a chance to look at one of the flak towers in Vienna's Esterhazypark.

The tower in Esterhazypark is the easiest and possibly to access and possibly the only one where one can go inside. It is a fire control tower ("L-tower"), however, so while it is high, its footprint is not as large as in the gun towers that I had seen in Berlin and Hamburg.

The tower has been converted to an aquarium and there's a remarkable climbing wall on the outside of this 54 meter high tower. Somewhere in the middle there's a small cafeteria and at the top there's a nice bar and terraces. The conversion to the aquarium has brought two huge glass extensions on both sides of the building that now house some of the crocodiles and birds.

I also bought a book about the archeology of the Vienna tower. Unfortunately, it is only available in German. I've progressed two pages into it so far but the plan is to learn the language through the use of Google translate until I remember all the words :-) Achtung, Ich kann Bunker-Deutsch sprechen! 

Location: N 48.1976 E 16.3528.


The climbing wall:

Crocodile-aquarium from below:



Nice cuts:

From the top down:

This article has also been published at TGR. And all urban exploration articles can be found at!

Photos (c) 2018 by Jari Arkko. All rights reserved.

The Inkoo Superbunker

There's a big contrast between warm summer evening in the countryside, and what you find a few meters under your feet: a massive, blown up Soviet-era bunker. Damp darkness, rebar that is difficult to crawl through. And we're here to practice photography!

At the EuroSpeleo photography workshop we learned to use backlight and flashes to take great photos. I bought radio triggers for my flashes and wanted to see if I could use the same techniques in bunkers.

But it is not easy, not easy technically and particularly not easy in the artistic sense. This will take practice.

Some of the difficulties we encountered include even more cramped space than in caves; getting my flashes to fire reliably (some debugging to do here); we may have also hit the power limits of my relatively small flashes. But most importantly, not all spots and setups are equally photogenic. More artistic thinking is needed. But, the good news is that if one realises how far ahead the possibilities are from where you are, then you can at least try to improve :-)

The Soviet Union bunkers in the occupied Porkkala area come in various different models. The most common one is small, but there are a couple of other models. The ZIF-25 bunkers are two storey with a round gun port to the side. And then we've two other, very large bunker models that are huge in area but one storey, with a large, rotating gun system on top. The Inkoo bunker is one of these, and the best preserved that we know of.

Well, preserved; it has been blown up and burned, but is still mostly accessible with careful crawling.

I will only give approximate coordinates to the general area: N 60.07 E 24.14. WARNING! This is a dangerous place and possibly includes unexploded ordnance. Do NOT visit this place, it is truly dangerous.

First we saw a wonderful countryside:

Then we saw some holes...

And soon we were crawling inside:

Some interesting details. A hook:

And then some worrisome details. What is this? An unexploded, corroded shell? Or a part of the ventilation piping? We were careful to not touch it...

In the meanwhile, the sun was setting outside. An aerial view to the sunset:

This article has also appeared in TGR. And all urban exploration articles can be found from

Photos (c) 2018 by Jari Arkko, Jarmo Ruuth, and Olli Arkko. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Something in the darkness...

Saw something in the darkness on the walk back... is it a bouncy castle or a space station? Nah, turned to be just another data center. #Kista

Photos (c) 2018 by Jari Arkko. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Block cave + river = fun?

Swoosh, flushed down! This cave makes me feel like going down the drain.

The hot summer weather, hiking, wet suits and coveralls are making everyone feel far too hot. We are awaiting for the promised cold water. There's water, although maybe slightly less than usual due to the hot weather again.

This is an exceptional cave. Exceptional for Austria, that is. In Finland a block cave would be normal. This cave reminds me very much of the Dragon's Cave in Korkberget, Kirkkonummi. Except that here the boulder field is on a steep slope. And there's a river flowing through it.

All we need to do is to find an entrance, and jump in. The way forward is usually fairly obvious, just follow the water. And there's usually enough space, except in couple of places. Twice I had to dive through a point with a low ceiling. There's also another difference to Korkberget: there are more layers of boulders, and quite a lot of vegatation on top of them. There are only some places for exits to the top.

I get stuck badly once, hanging on top of a boulder on my back, feet and head hanging over nothing. I can't move, but I manage to hand my helmet to Michi and camera to someone else. And then wedge myself slightly to the left and pass the tight point that was squeezing me from chest and back.

Phew. That was scary, because normally I'd been able to think about the situation and spend my time moving around to unwedge myself. But now I was in flowing water, and the boulder was pressing hard on my back.

There's a second place where someone else (phew, not me this time) gets stuck just before the exit, and I think they decide to go back. But I manage to go through that tight spot and eventually find myself out from the also narrow exit passage.

Fun cave, though. The cave is on a long boulder field on a steeply sloping small valley.

Location: Saubachlhöhlen, Yspertal, Austria.


Jaakko and Velma going in:

 Alex crawling inside:

More pictures from the inside:

At several points it was clear that there were long-time water flows through the cave, long enough to have spinning rocks drill round holes ("devil's churns"):

State of my lunch sandwich from my pocket after caving:

This blog article has also appeared in TGR. Tämä blogiartikkeli löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta. And all caving-related articles can be found from!

Photos and videos (c) 2018 by Jari Arkko. All rights reserved.